It is telling that in the aftermath of the win at Palace, there have been platitudes for Jack Wilshere throughout the press, and amongst fans. Why should this be something significant? Because it seems like just an easy takeaway to latch on to, an easy story to piggyback on – basically it seems a little convenient.
Before I’m accused of being a hater – let me point out that I have been advocating for Jack’s involvement with the team for months, and so am absolutely delighted with the fact that he’s had a good run in the side, and seems to have convinced Wenger to offer him a new contract.
I also think Jack had a good game at Selhurst Park, with the highlight of course being the superb chipped ball over the top for Sanchez to score our third goal. He has shown that he still has the ability to run a game from deep, managing to drive forward with the ball at his feet, and picking crisp passes to keep the game ticking over, something which we’ve desperately needed at times this season when our passing has become slow and ponderous. He’s the one central midfielder we have (given Santi’s continued absence) who can move our midfield through the gears and make our forward play click.
At the same time, I think we need to ensure we don’t get carried away and let this become one of those Arsenal messianic stories that we’ve seen over the years, which obscure larger failings in the team, and of the individual player as well.
Remember when Nasri was the best player in the league for the first half of 2010-11? Remember when Coquelin was the new Makelele in the second half of 2014-15? Or when Ozil was going to assist us to the title in 2015-16? Each time, not only were these players unable to keep up the good work they were doing, their good performances papered over cracks in the team that continued to widen, and eventually cost the club.
In the same way, let’s savour Jack’s return, but let’s properly assess his performance on Thursday night. Wilshere made 1 dribble, played 1 key pass, made 1 tackle and 1 interception, and played 64 passes (of which 60 were successful). On paper, those statistics don’t indicate a great performance. Of course, statistics do not a great performance make, and there were a lot of things that Jack did really well, that the statistics will not show.
He kept the ball ticking in midfield, constantly moving it forward rather than backward. He made himself available for a pass across the pitch, something which neither Ramsey nor Xhaka are very good at. One thing which the statistics did show was how many times he was fouled – 7. Now this has been a feature of Wilshere’s game because of how he takes the ball forward, but which has also been the cause behind so many of his debilitating injuries. It can help the team by creating set piece opportunities, but it runs the risk of leaving him on the treatment table yet again, which means he will not be of use to us, once again.
It also means that there are times when he could play the ball a little quicker, but holds on to it till such time as the chance for a more incisive pass is lost. Look back to his pass for the third goal, and you will see how his quick thinking and playing of the chipped through ball gives Sanchez the chance to make a run behind the Palace defence. Most teams are always going to sit deep against us, so we need quicker transitions to create more goalscoring opportunities. Jack clearly has the quality to be the man who makes those transitions, but it’s going to require more of a conscious effort on his part to look for those passes rather than drive forward, which should improve as he continues to get a chance to play with his teammates on a regular basis.
And of course, there remain those grouses with the team as a whole, which our excitement over Jack shouldn’t ignore. Xhaka was poor again, especially for Palace’s first goal, when he doesn’t bother covering the space into which Townsend drifts to slot home. Palace’s attacks consistently came through their inside left (our right defensive midfield zone – which is Xhaka’s to cover), and he was never anywhere to be found.
Once again, Kolasinac who generally had a solid game, didn’t get down the left as much as he should have – his touches and heatmap show a significant difference to Bellerin’s on the opposite flank.
The defence was once again at sea on corners – how on earth did we not have someone on the post for Tomkins’ goal?
These are things Wenger has to address, and while we can all raise a toast to Jack’s return and resurgence, we must not forget these will need to be kept in mind, for West Brom on the weekend, and the rest of the season to come.