Forward: I wrote this for Arsenal Latest in August. The tagline for this blog comes from one of the comments on that original post.
Since Dennis Bergkamp joined Arsenal in 1995, N5 had been home to the most talented footballer in the country (give or take a Cristiano Ronaldo). Thierry Henry joined as the aviophobic Dutchman entered his thirties; Cesc Fabregas upped his game when Henry departed, and then Robin van Persie finally decided to stay injury-free for longer than 6 months, propelling him to definitely-important-PFA-Player-of-the-Year-winning heights.
But now they’ve all gone. All of them. Succumbing to old age, Barcelona, Barcelona again, and a metaphorical little boy-cum-careers advisor, respectively.
So what happens when the one-man-team loses its one man?
Does someone else try to take their place, or does the cliché die? Well, both. The former first, and the latter second, that’s why I wrote them in that order. But the cliché doesn’t die valiantly, and in a blaze of Hollywood “no I in team” glory, but a whimper (unless, of course, you win things AND ARSENAL DOESN’T WIN THINGS LOLZ).
In light of Robin van Persie’s departure just over a year ago, the wisdom of crowds named Jack Wilshere as Arsenal’s most valuable asset. Anyone who makes a joke about Arsenal selling their best player now uses Wilshere as the default. Any Henry Winter clone who wants to construct a narrative about an Arsenal hero looks straight to Arsenal’s number 10.
But there’s a problem here. Have you spotted it yet? If not, go back and read that first bit again. I’ll wait for you… Got it now? Good. The problem is, of course, that Jack Wilshere isn’t the league’s best player, or indeed Arsenal’s best player.
Wilshere probably wouldn’t even be in Arsenal’s best XI at the moment.
Naturally, he is one of Arsenal’s most gifted players, but doesn’t really fit into any part of the midfield. He’s too young, and not direct or penetrative enough to play where his squad number suggests (in “the hole”), yet doesn’t have the discipline, strength or defensive qualities to partner Arteta in a deeper role.
This partly isn’t Wilshere’s fault. You can’t blame him for Arteta, who isn’t mobile enough to cover the back four on his own, and you can’t blame him for Rosicky or Cazorla, who aren’t really capable of dropping deeper when he goes gallivanting up-field. But his need to be accommodated for means he does have issues within his game that need to be addressed.
Are Game of Thrones references in vogue? Okay, I’ll use one then. If you don’t watch the programme, you can skip this next paragraph.
Jack Wilshere is definitely Tyrion: small, crafty, intelligent and sharp-tongued. But all this often gets him into trouble, so he can be pretty vulnerable without Bronn – that would be someone strong and quick enough to jump to his vertically challenged partner’s aid, yet also offers more intelligence than your average bodyguard. That was Alex Song, but he upped and left a year ago, so now Wilshere is stuck with Arteta, who is probably more comparable to Varys.
But Jack Wilshere is important to England though, right?
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And in this land, Jack Wilshere’s one-eye is his ability to pass a ball.
Yes, Carrick can do that too, but he’s 32 now, so he’d be a constitutional monarch at best. In the fallout from the 2010 World Cup, there seemed to finally be a realisation in this country that, in order to have a good football team, having good footballers might help. How convenient, then, that Wilshere’s breakthrough at Arsenal came the very next season. And look, he’s small and good at passing, just like those Spanish guys that win everything!
Sorry, I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I am, so there you go.
Of course, Wilshere is a good player. But this in itself is part of the problem: he knows it. And, just like everyone else in the country, he overrates himself.
Jack Wilshere absolutely believes his own hype.
And this is where we return to the one-man-team thing. Everyone knows it is rubbish, yet so many people lap up the narrative. Don’t believe me? One of the biggest pieces of football fiction in this country is Roy of the Rovers: a story essentially based around one man winning matches virtually by himself. But we all know real football doesn’t work like this, just don’t tell Jack Wilshere. Or perhaps do.
Actually yes, scrap that last bit, definitely tell Jack Wilshere.
You see, Wilshere has a massive Roy of the Rovers complex, and it needs to stop. When Arsenal are losing and/or playing badly, little Jack decides to *deepens voice* ‘take responsibility.’ This equates to him picking up the ball in the centre circle, and running past three players and being tackled by the fourth. To an extent, the thought is appreciated, so thanks Jack, but as gallant as these efforts are, they aren’t particularly productive.
For Arsenal, having Jack Wilshere is good. He’s a home-grown talent who’ll sell shirts and probably does have some affinity with the club. And one day, if he stays fit, he might be Arsenal’s best player. Hell, maybe even the league’s best player. But for now, let’s at least look for someone else to pin all our hopes and dreams on. Hi Santi Cazorla!