Despite wearing the squad number 10, Jack Wilshere has rarely been deployed in the central attacking role of Arsenal’s 5 man midfield this season. That coveted position has, more often than not, been occupied by £42.5m summer signing Mesut Ozil. Until now all the evidence has suggested that this has largely been the right decision. The instant impact he had on Arsenal’s fortunes when he first arrived at the club clearly shows what he is capable of when he is fit, happy, and playing in his favoured role. Yet recent performances have portrayed a player unrecognisable from the one who immeasurably changed the course of Arsenal’s season after arriving in September. A player who is perhaps in need of a rest after being thrown head first into the physical demands of his first Premier League season, a player who is starting to feel the pressure and a player who is no longer enjoying his football. The signs have been there for a while, his form dipped towards the end of 2013 and has not improved since. Furthermore, his attitude has come under scrutiny from fans who view his languid style as tantamount to a lack of effort and events such as his failure to acknowledge the fans, as he did against Manchester City in December, or his manager, at Liverpool last weekend, will do little to ease their frustrations. For a player whom Arsene Wenger paid a club record fee for, and is also the clubs highest ever wage earner, more is expected.
The only Arsenal player to emerge with any credit from the wreckage that was Arsenal’s title challenge at Anfield on Saturday was number 10 Jack Wilshere. A player who’s own form has been inconsistent this season, but one who’s home grown status and obvious passion for the club allow him more respite from fan criticism. However, against Liverpool there was little to criticise as his commitment and desire drove the team forward in the second half after it seemed the rest had accepted defeat within the opening 20 minutes. With the substitution of Ozil after an hour, Wilshere was able to push further forward and had more space to run into to attack Liverpool, with one notable burst from the half way line winning a free kick from which Mikel Arteta stung the gloves of Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet and another attempt of his own testing the Liverpool stopper. Some pundits criticised Wilshere’s temperament in a game where he picked up a booking and was involved in a series of incidents with Philippe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard. This is indeed an area that Wilshere needs to learn to control but in the circumstances of his teams performance it was understandable and his combative nature is such an important part of his game. Furthermore, it is also prudent to note, when talking about temperament, that it was his England captain and senior, the more experienced Gerrard, who gave away a needless penalty with an unnecessary challenge on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
His performance was reminiscent of his best form last season when he enjoyed a decent run of games in the more advanced creative role after Wenger shifted Santi Cazorla onto the left wing. It is a role that certainly makes the most of his best attributes, particularly his eye for a pass and his ability to burst past an opponent into space. However, this leaves Wenger with a dilemma. A player of Ozil’s pedigree, and price tag, can not spend the rest of the season shunted out onto the wing, whilst consigning him to the bench would be even more unthinkable. To get the best out of Ozil he has to be deployed behind the main striker, drifting into pockets of space and creating chances for his teammates. Therefore Wenger needs to decide how to once again get the best out of his record signing. The German playmaker needs something to reinvigorate his, and his team’s, stuttering season. Dropping Ozil would be a very controversial, and brave, decision, especially at such a key point in the Gunners campaign. But it seems necessary to give the German a few games away from the first team, whether to just give him a rest or to show him that his position in the starting XI is not untouchable. For either reason it could be exactly what is needed for Arsenal’s missing man to rediscover his early season form.
It will not be the first time an under performing star player has been dropped. Joe Hart at Man City this season is a successful example where the player sat out a few games and later returned to the first team with renewed hunger and improved performances. This may be the challenge that Ozil needs to once again prove he is the player that Arsene Wenger more than doubled his transfer record for, yet it remains to be seen whether it would be a challenge that German would relish and respond to. Fortunately for the Arsenal manager, he has a ready made replacement, a viable option in the fans eyes, who is desperate to get their season back on track against Manchester United, in Jack Wilshere. And in a game where taking 3 points will be more important than the performance, the Englishman’s style may better suit what the Gunners need to do.
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