30 September 2017

Will Wilshere wither, or will he weather the storm?

Safe to say there was underwhelming expectation for Jack Wilshere as we entered the 2017/2018 season.  Our fan base has clamored to the idea of signing an additional central midfielder for obvious reasons.  For Wilshere, there was more expectation from our fans for him to be sold or loaned than to play any part this season given his injury record as well as the loan circumstances when he went off to Bournemouth. However, as the summer progressed, and our transfer activities stalled, I became open to the notion that Arsène might just be planning to utilize him for central midfield depth.  Of course, this roll of the dice all rides on Wilshere’s maintains fitness and our ability to properly manage him.  Sure enough, here we are at the tail end of October and we are seeing positive signs thus far. Slowly but surely,  Arsène has brought Wilshere back into the fray.

Starting with matches for the U-23’s (okay, no need to mention his role in the brawl vs Manchester City U23’s), working his way up to a cameo in the Europa League opener against Cologne, and finally starts vs Doncaster in the Carabao Cup and BATE in the Europa League, it's time to evaluate Wilshere's role in the squad.

In Woolwich 1886's own post-match voting, Wilshere earned himself man of the match performances in both matches against Doncaster and BATE, with 7.9 player rating vs Doncaster and an 8.44 rating against BATE. For me, he was easily the best player on the pitch in both matches.  He did seem to fade away a bit and become less influential as both matches wore on past the hour mark.  Part of that might have been due to him not quite being where he needs to as far as match fitness, bu another part comes down to our side collectively fading. Let's look at a few variables to consider for both matches...

Difference in Roles
Against Doncaster, Wilshere was partnered with Elneny as a deep central midfielder in a 3-4-3 shape. Within this shape, he operated from deep, a lot of times picking the ball up from our centre backs, demonstrating his passing range, swinging balls out to our wing backs who were constantly getting into advanced positions as well as making some good advanced runs in their final third.  From my perspective, he was running the game from midfield and was one of our most influential figure on the pitch.  I thought the dinked chip to Giroud was brilliant when he volleyed the scissor-kick and smashed the crossbar.  He also had some neat short combination passing links with Alexis.
We’ve missed some of that when operating in the final third. We saw him operate in a more advanced role against BATE. However, this shape was more of a 3-5-2, with Walcott pushed further forward as a second striker with Giroud as opposed to shared responsibilities playing just behind the main striker. Wilshere operated as the highest central midfielder, forming a CM trio when necessary and acting in a number 10 role between the opposition's midfield and defensive lines as our creative hub.  Since Walcott was pushed further forward as a second striker, this gave Wilshere more room to operate freely as a 10.
Jack's first-half passing agaisnt BATE, courtesy of Squawka.

In the first half, Wilshere completed 23 of 24 passes and created two chances, (credit Squawka) one being a very nice chipped assist to Walcott.  I also enjoyed his pass to Maintland-Niles which completely cut the BATE defense open.  Thinking ahead to what position he would be preferred in, I would lean towards his role against BATE. Playing this position with two strikers ahead of him is probably not as realistic in a Premier League setting; however, it is very much attainable in the Europa League.  As far as the Premier League is concerned, I think one of the advanced roles behind the striker will call for a little less physical demand than playing as a deep central midfielder. 

Quality of Opposition
Before we all jump back on the Wilshere hype train, we need to consider the quality of opposition. Let’s face it, Doncaster and BATE are not Premier League level sides.  The difference is Wilshere will not be afforded the time the same time and space. The Premier League opposition will not be quite as forgiving either.  It is just a different level of intensity and physicality.  Wilshere showcased that he still has some very good technical qualities, but I think anyone calling for him to start Premier League matches at this point in time should pump the breaks.  The last thing we need is to mismanage him and cause another horrific injury setback.  He’s incurred enough of those. 

If anything, I think the unexpected revival of Wilshere gives us fans something to finally be positive about given all the turmoil so far at the start of this new season.  He may not currently be the central midfielder we need, however having a player of his technical quality in that position is a commodity we definitely need to utilize efficiently when possible.  For now, Arsene needs to continue with his gradual integration and progression working up to playing Premier League matches.  If he continues his progression and remains fit, he will get his chance sooner than later.

Emory Stern has been an avid Arsenal supporter since the days of the Dutch-duo of Overmars and Bergkamp. He loves beautiful, fluent,attacking football and appreciates a good run to the near post—a Gooner through and through.  You can find him under his Twitter handle @emorystern. 

28 September 2017

BATE Borisov 2-4 Arsenal: Vote for Player Ratings/MOTM!

Theo Walcott bagged a brace but could have, should have had more; Rob Holding opened his Arsenal account, and Olivier Giroud scored his 100th Arsenal goal as the Gunners mostly waltzed past their hosts in Belarus. The match started to get ragged late on, and BATE had numerous chances but were wasteful or were denied by fine saves from David Ospina. In any case, it was enough to see us win for the fifth in six matches, and we're comfortably atop Group H. Not much else to say other than to invite you down to the poll to rate the lads!

27 September 2017

One man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...

After a fine run of form during which we've gone undefeated in five consecutive matches, including a stout visit to Stamford Bridge, we journey east beyond familiar borders. While it's true that a trip to Turkey to face Beşiktaş or Ludogorets in the Champions League is a longer trip, it's something else to make a trip to Belarus to face BATE Borisov in the Europa League. For one thing, there all those capital letters in the club's name. At least they don't have any accents dangling or protruding. For another, there's the weather. If we're lucky, it'll be 10℃ (50℉). For another, it's Europa League play—still exotic if not quite erotic. At any rate, we have a chance to slam the door shut on Group H with a win on Thursday.

26 September 2017

Lacazette bags the brace, but Monreal steals the show!

It doesn't often happen when your mate bags a brace and your squad boasts of almost 70% possession that you, a wide defender in a 3-4-3, get to claim MOTM honors, but when you're Nacho Monreal, well, you floor that like Koscielny floors opponents of questionable personality and repute. On a day when we pushed Pulis's peons around like—well, like peons—we voted none other than Monreal as our Man of the Match. It's almos as if Nacho looked at Pulis's "tactics" and decided he would show the man how football is played, proper. Not to slight the man he dislodged from the position, but Monreal showed us just how irrelevant Gibbs had become. Let's look at some numbers...

25 September 2017

Arsenal 2-0 West Brom: Vote for Player Ratings/MOTM!

In a match in which Arsenal seemed bound and determined to highlight their reputation as long on style and short on substance, and in which West Brom seemed just as determined to confirm the reputation of Pulis-managed sides for physicality, it was set-pieces and penalties that made all the difference. Lacazette pounced on a well-saved free-kick from Alexis to make it 1-0. He then slotted home from the spot after Ramsey was barreled out of bounds. West Brom felt hard done by on a few non-calls that could have changed the complexion of the game, but the run of play was firmly if not always under Arsenal's control. After all the to-do about Gibbs's return to the Emirates, there's not much to say about his impact for good or for ill. Let's get down to the poll to rate the lads!