Tag Archives: Wilshere


Would the non-divisive Arsenal player please stand up?

We often hear about how a certain player is divisive. His relative talents left in the trash heap of history and his relative faults brought out and polished for some blogger to earn a few bucks off clicks. But the truth is that I can’t think of a single player at Arsenal who doesn’t divide opinion right now. Even venerated players like Thierry Henry get put under the microscope and examined by Arsenal fans eager to find fault with the gods of the game.

Why? There’s not really one reason. With 60,000 Arsenal bloggers and twice as many people on twitter who want to make you aware of their opinion there is a rush to be the first with some “insight”. This often leads to hyperbolic criticism of players after one or two poor matches, or even a poor first half. But there are also just some people who are always going to be harshly critical (and harshly optimistic!) of everything and call it “being realistic” or folks who just want Arsenal to buy all the players at every other team. Whatever the reason, we all know that they are there and what they have to say but let’s look a little closer at some recent criticisms.

Alexis Sanchez

Removed at half-time against Everton and already some folks are questioning whether he was worth the money Arsenal paid for him. Wenger linked his current fitness levels to his confidence but I’m not entirely convinced it was a fitness issue. Against Everton, Alexis made runs which had the local commentators gushing but Arsenal struggled to get him the ball: he only received 17 total passes in 45 minutes and only one pass in the 18 yard box, on the edge of the box, hardly a dangerous position.

Meanwhile, Giroud’s first touch was a big diagonal placed a yard away from goal and from there almost all of his passes received were in and around the box. He received just 18 passes himself, hardly setting the world on fire.

I suspect that more than lack of fitness was a lack of understanding. Arsenal and Alexis seem just a step off at the moment. When Ramsey expects Alexis to zig, he zags. While Giroud has two seasons at Arsenal and his movements are now predictable to his teammates. I’m not at all worried about Alexis Sanchez and his ability to fit in at Arsenal. He’s a fantastic footballer, with a great first touch, the ability to take on defenders, and who will shine once he learns his teammates.


It doesn’t get much more divisive than opinion on the big Frenchman. He’s wasteful. His first shot against Everton should have been a goal. Sometimes seems more comfortable trying a cutsey little flick pass than a basic 5 yard square ball. Unable to face up to an opponent and take him on.

But he’s also big and strong and willing to put in a shift against meaty defenders as Arsenal’s version of Kevin Cyril Davies and yet still score 16-20 goals in a season. Industrious player who can pluck a ball out of the sky with his foot like it’s cotton candy, who wins headers in the middle of the park, and who holds the ball up so well that he has to be credited at least partially for Ramsey’s scoring renaissance.


Before last season was completely written off by many Arsenal fans. The same fans who are writing off Wilshere now. Some of the criticism was warranted, he had an annoying tendency to hold on to the ball too much and that resulted in numerous turnovers.

But his workrate and the fact that he never shied away from the ball saved him. He’s Arsenal’s leading passer, leading tackler, and now he’s a goal scoring midfielder who wins games with his late runs in the box. Cited by Wenger as the main reason why Arsenal didn’t buy Cesc Fabregas.


This 22 year old central midfielder is Arsenal’s new enfant terrible and judging by the heap of articles in the British press this morning, his young career is over. Has an annoying habit of holding on to the ball too much and trying to dribble too much. Often caught in possession and targeted by opposition midfielders for tackles (leads Arsenal in fouls drawn, and those are just the ones the officials call). He was even tackled (harshly, I thought) by Thierry Henry in the friendly against the Red Bulls. Perhaps Henry was trying to say “son, you dribble too much, pass the ball.”

But he’s only 22 years old and he’s had a career plagued with injuries. Hasn’t started more than 20 League games for Arsenal since his breakout season, 2010/2011 — when he was just 19 years old. He has to learn to pass and move rather than trying to dribble the entire opposition team. And defensively he needs to learn better positioning and tackling. The talent is there, though, and like Ramsey before him I expect Wilshere to shine this season.

Podolski, Özil, Sanogo, Arteta… I could keep going

You already know the criticisms of these players. Podolski is lazy, Özil is nicking a living, Sanogo is not Mario Ballotelli, Arteta isn’t beast, etc. But rather than break down every player let’s end with some positives.

Per Mertesacker: who has anything bad to say about Per? A gentle giant, makes Arsenal’s set play defense better simply with his presence. Organizes the defense and a natural leader on the pitch.

Laurent Koscielny: (to the tune of Crazy by Willie Nelson) I’m crazy… I’m crazy for Laurent Koscielny… I’m crazy for Laurent’s kung fu. I knew, Koscielny won’t leave me like van Persie. Or Cashley, who left me for somebody blue. Worry? Why do I let myself worry? Wondering, what we would do without you? I’m crazy… for thinking that red card could hold you. I’m crazy… for crying. I’m crazy for buying. I’m crazy for loving you. (special thanks to Brian from 11 Cannons for collaborating on this).

Calum Chambers: I feel sad for Chambers. Koscielny and Mertesacker are both going to be healthy soon and he’s going to be put back on the bench and left to fight his way back into first team contention either as a center back, a right back, or in his eventual position as defensive midfielder. He’s made a few mistakes but the fact that he’s been universally praised by all across England, with many hoping for an England call-up, is as positive a review as possible for a 19 year old. Really, just perfect. The same way that everyone praised Jack Wilshere when he was 19 and begged him to be selected for the national team. Oh wait…

Have your say below. Are there players beyond reproach for you? Ones you feel you need to defend?


Trod upon

Jack down, I’m out

The club announced today that Jack Wilshere suffered a hairline fracture after a bad tackle in England’s friendly win over Denmark. Wilshere will be sidelined for six weeks, at least, and may struggle to regain fitness ahead of the World Cup placing his hopes for a berth with England in Brazil in jeopardy. Needless to say, this is terrible news for Jack, Arsenal, and England.

Arsenal have been in a bit of slump lately so it’s normal for people to forget how important Jack is to this team when he’s on form. His goal of the season candidate against Norwich is the perfect example of his directness and ability to break through the opposition’s midfield. In the video, Wilshere picks the ball up from defense, dribbles around his markers, passes, moves, passes, moves, and then shows great touch to finish the attack. Wilshere brings a directness to Arsenal that’s refreshing on a team with so many midfielders who prefer to drop back in the final phase and create for others.

Jack has been struggling with form these last few weeks and that is in no small part due to him being the target of opposition midfielders. Wilshere is Arsenal’s most fouled player with 2.1 per game last season and 1.9 per game this season. Remember, those are the fouls that the referees bother to call and also remember that Opta doesn’t count it when the referee waves play on. I suspect many of us feel as if Jack is fouled 4 or more times a game, at least.

As much as I would like someone in the midfield who can protect Jack, Arsenal are not at fault for this treatment that Wilshere receives. The referees need to have a look at themselves and every England supporter who also supports a club like Stoke, who fouled Wilshere 4 times (that were called), should be ashamed of themselves for glorifying Wilshere’s rough treatment. When England are missing someone to drive their midfield forward in Brazil this summer, you can thank Charlie Adam and Glen Wheelan for Wilshere’s absence as much as you can thank Danny Agger for breaking his foot in their “friendly”.

The fact that Daniel Agger broke Wilshere’s foot should be the issue here, not whether Arsenal “played him in the red zone”. This isn’t a soft-tissue injury. This isn’t a muscle strain. This was a horrible tackle by Agger, which had shades of Shawcross on Ramsey. Agger lost control of the ball (like Shawcross) and seeing the Arsenal man coming, lunged in with a sweeping leg to try to win the ball. Agger doesn’t even win the ball until he takes the man. A bit ironic that Liverpool and Arsenal are locked in a title race and a Liverpool player takes out an important Arsenal player with an horrific tackle.

If there’s a silver lining to all this it’s that Arsene has sort of packed the team full of center mids who can take Wilshere’s place. Assuming that Arsenal get knocked out by Bayern, if the Gunners go all the way to the FA Cup final, they will only have 14 total games from today until the end of the season and at least three players who can play in Jack’s position.

Aaron Ramsey has another week or so before he returns but he’s the natural replacement for Jack in the midfield. In fact, if Ramsey recovers his early season form, he is a huge upgrade in terms of overall workrate, passing, defense, and offense.

While Arsenal are waiting for Ramsey, Arsene has plenty of options owing to the fact that he essentially has 11 center mids when everyone is healthy. The list of Arsenal midfielders who are available (or soon to be available) to Arsene is pretty incredible, really: Cazorla, Podolski, Flamini, Arteta, Kallstrom, Rosicky, Ramsey, Özil, Ox, and Gnabry.

Here are some options for lineups, including the two “wing” positions at Arsenal:

Cazorla – Flamini – Rosicky – Ox – Özil
Podolski – Arteta – Cazorla – Rosicky – Ox
Cazorla – Arteta – Özil – Ramsey – Gnabry
Gibbs – Kallstrom – Arteta – Flamini – Bendtner*

The key question with all of these is chemistry and balance. For example, the Flamini-Arteta experiment has been poor at times and I would be very concerned if Arsenal started those two against a slick dribbler like Everton’s Ross Barkley. For Saturday, I suspect that Arsene will play Cazorla – Arteta – Rosicky – Özil – Ox or some variation of that with Rosicky the main midfield runner and first line of defense, Arteta the cleanup guy, Özil free to roam, Cazorla cutting in on the wing and Ox doing what he did in his cameo against Stoke — kicking ass and chewing gum. And he’s all out of gum.

Losing Jack at this time is going to put more pressure on the remaining players at Arsenal to push the team forward. His injury also means one less body for rotation. It’s not the kind of news that we wanted to hear coming out of the International “break” but Arsenal will just have to deal with it the best they can. Arsene, luckily (?), has plenty of options.

I’m all packed and ready to go

I leave for London tonight and because of the way the earth rotates and the direction I’m flying, I won’t be landing there until tomorrow 11:20 GMT. I will publish a Les Crang piece on Ray Parlor while I’m in the air (magic) and after that you won’t hear from me again until Sunday, probably. I will do a stats preview over on Arseblog News while drinking my 4:30 am coffee on Saturday but no post-match post until Sunday. I will do a similar post before and after the Bayern match. The weather is supposed to be beautiful this week and I am going to breathe deep the air of London and Munich rather than spend the whole time in front of the laptop.

For those who wonder about this sort of stuff, here’s my packing list:

7amkickoff’s Traveling Arsenal Fan Pre-Match Packing List

1 Flamini sleeveless short sleeve shirt
5 Other shirts for the Flamini shirt to yell at and tell where to be positionally on defense
4 Bags of Magic of the Cup coffee beans
6 Pairs of Bendtner’s dropped trousers
8 Pairs of Northern Monkey socks
8 Pairs of Flamini v. Wilshere boxer shorts
1 Package of Stoke’s finest flushable wipes
1 Passport to choose your own adventure, oops you die on page 16
1 Bottle of Never in Doubt anti-anxiety pills
2 You should read more, books
1 Arsene Wenger didn’t see it digital camera obscura
1 Spend your entire vacation on it laptop
1 Wad of spend some ******* money
1 Bottle of Agger’s tackle left a Maker’s Mark whiskey

I recon a feller could have a pretty good time in London Munich with that.


*Personal favorite — I call it “31 Flavors of Disaster”


Blood and thunder (Plus: Arsenal missed Arteta and Ramsey)

Bursting through the Villa lines
Wilshere’s gossamer touch
froze the ball in perfect silence,
a moment of anticipation,
split by the thunderclap of his shot.

Then Delph let cry and slipped.
Wilshere again paused time, a trick
he must do by clicking his boots together.
Giroud cushioned Wilshere’s diagonal
like cotton candy. Then, draped in men,
he coolly slotted
between their legs.

Villa pressed and Arsenal folded,
an ill-conceived backheel
and Lowton poked and hoped.
Mertesacker’s telescopic legs
just a wisp away from clearing
Benteke’s diving header.

And Per’s face contorted in
rage, as he turned to howl:
You will play like men
or I will end you!”

Swarbrick stood over Rosicky
must have seen his Picasso nose
and didn’t stop play. So
Rosicky staggered to his feet
and played on. Our warrior,
his nose Bruced by Agbonlahor,
giving everything to the team.

The Villains tasted blood
and in a frenzy nipped at
Arsenal’s heels.
They bombarded
Arsenal from above,
from the side.
But Mertesacker and Koscielny
rose to the challenge and
headed everything away.

The fans watched on
tight and nervous but
This is not the Arsenal
who gave up four
to Newcastle.
This is not the Arsenal
who conceded a late penalty
to Birmingham.
This is the Arsenal
who plays with
gossamer and guts.
This is the Arsenal
who plays with
blood and thunder.
This is the Arsenal
who are
Top of the League.

Arsenal really missed Aaron and Arteta

Cazorla is getting a lot of stick this morning for the errant backheel that let Villa into the game and certainly that move was not the brightest: he could have played the ball back to Gibbs but instead elected for a tricky pass in a dangerous area between three defenders. For a player of his experience that was fairly unacceptable. He should know better than to play a ball like that in the Arsenal defensive final third. But part of the problem was that overall I thought the Arsenal midfield looked a bit timid in that second half. There were just too many players who didn’t seem to want the ball.

Villa sussed out that Swarbrick wasn’t going to call any fouls on them and so they got physical with Arsenal — eventually breaking Rosicky’s face. It’s a well-worn tactic that Arsenal should be prepared for having seen it incessantly for the last 15 years.

Flamini tried to rise to the challenge and impose himself on the match and at the end so too did Wilshere but what was needed was a little bit of calm possession rather than huffing and puffing and physical violence. Slick passing would have broken the Villa press easily and probably created more clear-cut opportunities on counter attacks. But without either Ramsey or Arteta, who work tirelessly to make themselves available for their teammates and who are excellent with the quick pass and move, Arsenal really struggled to string passes together.

To be blunt, it looked like some of the key players were hiding. Wilshere and Özil in particular needed to step up and make themselves available as an outlet for Cazorla. Arsenal’s 79% second half passing didn’t make itself, it was a product of players hiding.

I was also not impressed with either of their defensive contributions. Wilshere won Arsenal the game but he’s chronically unwilling to do the dirty work that’s required of a center mid. He only even attempted one tackle, which is really crazy when you consider how much of the ball Villa had in the second half. I know, you’re going to be apoplectic with rage over me daring to criticize the game winner but I’m sure you’ll get over it eventually.

Look, there are a lot of folks who are hand-wringing over Podolski being left out of the squad but Poldi is left out because Cazorla plays both ends of the pitch and Podolski just doesn’t. You can carry a player like that, Vieira admitted that Arsenal did it with Pires during their halcyon days, but you really can’t have two or three of those players on a team or the defense suffers. So, while I understand that people want to see Podolski given a chance “on the back of Cazorla’s disastrous performance” I completely disagree. Wenger has been dropping hints that Podolski is basically lazy and as long as Wilshere and Özil are shirking their defensive duties the team needs Cazorla.

Yes, Cazorla made the error which led to the Villa goal but he also shouldered the burden for Arsenal and led the team in passes, was second in attacking third passes, led both teams with 11 ball recoveries, led Arsenal with 3/3 tackling, and even had 4 clearances. Wilshere and Özil combined for 0/1 tackles, 13 ball recoveries, and one clearance.

You can have one or maybe even two players who are basically not doing their defensive duties or who don’t really want the ball but three is right out. At least until Arsenal can get Ramsey and Arteta back into the game: Arsenal’s two best tacklers and two best passers.