Why Jack Wilshere Is Wasted as a Holding Midfielder

Ask a bunch of ten-year-olds to split into two groups; defenders or attackers, and most, if not all, would instantaneously know where to plonk them self. You just know. 

In an ideal world we’d love our kids to be all-rounders who are good at everything, but mostly we tend to be one or the other. I was only ever interested in attacking, and the art of making and scoring goals. For others, it just felt more natural to be a stopper. 

Players can be turned, and trained of course. Ashley Cole and Kieran Gibbs were both attack-minded wingers as kids, and I vividly recall coming up against Sol Campbell as a centre forward for Tottenham Hotspur’s youth team. There will always be exceptions. 

By and large though, we as footballers are either born to attack or to defend.

Which camp do you think Jack Wilshere falls into? It’s as a forward-minded player of course. 

Always looking to pass and probe, beat his man, the Arsenal star has progressed from hot prospect to the biggest stage because he has that special burst of pace, wonderful vision, and the drive to make things happen in the opposition half. Technically, he is also outstanding. 

Wilshere certainly hasn’t made it this far by sitting in front of the back four, crunching into tackles and giving the ball to more creative talents around him. He hasn’t reached elite level because of his off the ball diligence. Those are not attributes we associate with the player. 

So why then is he suddenly thought of as the answer to Arsenal and England’s defensive midfield shortcomings?

With England I kind of get it, but the situation is too convenient. 

There’s a collection of gifted midfielders scrapping it out for one or two attacking spots on the team, but no one standing out as international class for that defensive midfield position. Therefore, Roy Hodgson has turned to the best alternative available.

READ: Will Tidey Makes The Case For Wilshere In The Holding Role

If there was an athletic, physical ball winner coming through the ranks that could pass as well as he could, I doubt the Gunners man would even be considered. 

As a deep lying playmaker the 22-year-old has looked good though. Arguably man of the match in each of his last few appearances, it’s little wonder he and Hodgson are both excited about recent developments. 

All I’d say is that it’s significantly easier sitting in front of the defence against Norway, Switzerland, San Marino, Estonia, Slovenia and Scotland than it would be against Spain, France, Germany, Brazil, and Argentina. 

In the slower environment of international football, up against inferior teams that are happy to park the bus, looking the business in that quarterback spot isn’t especially hard for a classy footballer like Jack. Under limited pressure, those fixtures haven’t tested he or anyone else’s defensive credentials have they?

Chasing the ball for 90 minutes trying to stem the service into David Silva, Lionel Messi, Oscar, Thomas Muller and co, might throw up a very different type of challenge. Would it expose weaknesses? I suspect so. 

Wilshere confessed in the press today that he’s asked Arsene Wenger if he can play as a sitting midfielder for Arsenal, and I agree with the Gunners boss for saying ‘no’. 

The Premier League is significantly faster, and more is demanded of a defensive midfielder. Against the Burnley’s and Crystal Palace’s of this world, who will sit off and defend with 25% of possession against the Gunners there’s no reason why Wilshere couldn’t be utilized in that position, but against Chelsea, City, Liverpool or Manchester United? I’m really not so sure. Even with specialist stoppers like Flamini they’ve struggled in that area of the game. 

You can’t judge everything by statistics but some of them do make interesting reading…

A total of 13 Arsenal teammates average more successful tackles per game than Wilshere - and a whopping 16 sit above him when it comes down to interceptions. As good as he can be on the ball, without it, there are many improvements to be made. 

And do Arsenal fans really want Wilshere concentrating on stifling somebody else’s service, rather than focusing on how he can hurt the opposition? I believe that would be a waste of his ability. 

Some will point towards Andrea Pirlo and Xavi as examples of quality footballers who sit deep and probe, but you mustn’t forget they have the likes of Paul Pogba and Sergi Busquets around them to provide the muscle. At Emirates Stadium there’s no one in that class to share the load. That’s what they need, not somebody else to switch positions. 

Wilshere is a quality box-to-box midfielder who can attack brilliantly, and defend to a reasonable standard. He’s the perfect foil for someone that’s suited to shielding the back four. He knows it, Hodgson knows it, and so does Arsene Wenger. 

Asking him to be the person that holds things together for club and country is a step too far.