The end of summer

Tomorrow at 7:21am Pacific time, the Earth with reach the autumnal equinox and the northern hemisphere will officially be in fall. It is the day in which there will be 12 hours of light, in which the sun rises and sets directly east and west, and in which people all over North America make Facebook posts talking about how much they hate “pumpkin spice”. I don’t know who is buying all of these pumpkin spice lattes, but I know that Starbucks wouldn’t promote them if they didn’t sell. That means either there are a tiny minority of people who drink all the pumpkin spice or a lot of people who like to complain about pumpkin spice but secretly drink them. I love pumpkin spice latte season because Starbucks promotes them with the letters “PSL” which always reminds me of PMSL. 

As usual, I digress.

I watched part of the League Cup tie yesterday between Arsenal and Nottingham Forest and I also took one for the team and watched Arsenal’s on-loan Jack Wilshere toil in midfield for Bournemouth during their 4-0 loss to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Here is my report.

Jack, where to start? Let’s start with the fact that he hasn’t played football for a year. And we can extend that fact out to cover the last two years where he has played just 27 times for Arsenal. Wilshere was one of the most precocious talents to ever graduate from the Arsenal academy. In his first full season for Arsenal, he played 49 times and won the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Just give him the ball and let him go to work, he would break through defensive lines, create chaos, and drive the Arsenal counter attacks ahead with power and speed. That was six years ago. And it doesn’t matter how talented a player is, they need to play to stay sharp and grow. And in the five seasons since Jack’s zenith, he’s spent two entire seasons injured and played just 93 matches.

Let’s also go with the fact that Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth set up to play a 4-5-1 with Jack playing in a weird right-sided midfield role, not the furthest wide but sitting between the wide player and the holding midfielder. Not only was he playing in this unfamiliar role he was also playing in a foreign system. He was educated in the Arsenal way, attacking football, verticality, finding spaces between the lines, breaking the lines, passing and movement, all the things that made him great.

But Bournemouth set up to play negative football. They didn’t press to win the ball back, were rarely adventurous going forward, attacked with just a few players, and sat compact in two lines. This was perfect for Pep Guardiola’s City, they love when teams sit deep like this because when they do lose the ball, they can press quickly to regain possession in the opposition half, and since they are the technically superior team they can pass and move around the spaces that Bournemouth allow, pulling the Bournemouth defenders out of position and creating space for themselves. As soon as I saw the way Bournemouth were set up I knew that Jack was going to have a bad day, and he did.

When he got possession, which was rare (he only had 10 passes in 69 minutes), the City players were on him and tackling the ball away. He had two turnovers in his own half in the first 20 minutes. The first, he tried to dribble around his man, lost the tackle to Fernandino, and then in a bit of a huff, ran back and knocked Nolito off the ball for a foul. That foul set up the first of City’s four goals.

You could see the frustration of his teammates in that video and that brings me to another problem that Jack had in that match, he was mostly ignored by his teammates. I don’t want to read too much into it, but 10 passes in 69 minutes, when plenty of his teammates were getting the ball, is clear evidence that Jack was struggling to fit in.

On the positive side, when Bournemouth did have some space and Jack had the ball he drove at the City defense in his trademark style and created for his teammates. He didn’t supply the final ball, but on at least two occasions he played the ball that led to the final ball.

It was a terrible match for Jack. Playing in a completely unfamiliar role, in a system that showed Eddie Howe’s lack of tactical nous, against a vastly superior opposition, and playing with teammates who are just getting to know him, he struggled.

This is going to be a long season for Jack Wilshere and a test of his character. This feels like an equinox for Jack, the tipping point of his career, but we can’t tell whether it is spring or fall.

In the League Cup Arsenal showed the strength in depth which is the reason why Jack is at Bournemouth. Wenger started Granit Xhaka and Elneny in midfield and Xhaka showed exactly what he can do for Arsenal.

I only caught glimpses of the action, because the match was shown on BeIN’s internet channel and I don’t have a cable/satellite subscription which would allow me to log on to their service. But from what I saw Xhaka had a great game. He scored the opener, another 30 yard blast from midfield, and dictated play throughout.

I know it’s not the most popular sentiment because Elneny has a lot of fervent supporters (an odd number) but he looked weak next to Xhaka. Elneny spent a lot of time on my feed on the ground rubbing various “injuries” and when pressed, easily gave up the ball. I know that former Arsenal player (and another guy who had an odd number of fervent supporters) Henri Lansbury ran around kicking people the whole match but I still felt Elneny went to ground too easily and stayed down too long, effectively taking himself out of the game.

Up front, Gooners got to see the good qualities of summer signing Lucas. He opened his account with a penalty, Arsenal’s fifth penalty in seven matches, and finished his day with a tenacious goal. For the second, he simply hounded the defender until he coughed up the ball and then fended him off, rounded the keeper, and scored. He could have even had a hat trick when The Ox played a teasing cross over to him but his shot was blocked off the line.

Ox had the fourth goal on the day and he really needed it. He was having a nightmare first half, showing off all the skills which have him down in the fans’ book as “least improved player”; turning the ball over, passing to nowhere, and getting bypassed  on defense. But in the second half he showed more than a few glimpses of what we all loved about him in his first few seasons at Arsenal, that ability to simply beat his marker and either score or set up a teammate.

All told, it’s been a good week of football for the Arsenal, scoring 8 goals in two matches will do that. Up next Arsenal face Chelsea in the first test of the long cold season ahead.

Qq

44 Comments on The end of summer

  1. 4 things
    1) I bet there’s a strong correlation between a person loving pumpkin spiced products and he/she voting for Trump
    2) I’ll be very disappointed if we extend Jack’s contract. Too many Arsenal fans are still living on the hope his talent shown several years ago gave us. It’s over, folks.
    3) Similarly, Theo and Ox will continue to show us flashes. Sadly, they will more frequently continue to let us down. Could we have not splurged a couple years ago on DeBruyne? That right side needs help still and I doubt Ramsey wants to do it.
    4) Big match Saturday. Would love to see our promising new boys (Lucas and Xhaka) in the squad.

    • I would think the pumpkin spice and the starbucks population in general would be very left leaning. Trump’s base is mostly made up of rural blue collar folks, and that’s Dunkin Donuts territory around here.

      Jack’s next contract should depend on his performances or lack thereof. We need to be paying him for future production not his fame and past glories, but at this point it’s hard to tell how much we can count on that. The loan spell will tell its story by the end of the year. Theo’s actually been one of our best players in this early start to the year, and although Ox is struggling I would view that as part of his longer term development. He’s deservedly lost his place to Iwobi but what he needs more than anything is more game time. At the age of 23, all is not lost for him. De Bruyne is a fine player now but was nothing more than a slightly disappointing prospect when Chelsea sold him to Wolfsburg. Now he plays for one of their biggest rivals for the title. Raheem Sterling certainly had his struggles, as did Gareth Bale, and so on and so on. Few players come out of the academy with their wings fully unfurled and ready to fly, and even if they do, as Jack Wilshere found out, that’s still no guarantee that everything will work out as you’d hope.

  2. I know Forest aren’t exactly Chelsea, but I thought Arsenal played well. Despite playing a fair few kids and a number of fringe players the Arsenal team actually looked like and played like a proper team with a proper plan. There’s been a fair few games recently where that hasn’t really seemed the case so it was very nice to see.

    I really hope things work out for Wilshere at Arsenal but it’s difficult to see where he’d fit in the first team. I know he’s known as an Arsenal fan but would he be happy as back up player with limited game time?

    • You reminded me of a thought I had…

      When Arsenal are playing badly, when it’s not working, when we are not scoring, we can look like we don’t have a plan (or an “identity” or style). When it clicks, the plan is revealed and the style emerges.

      With the ball, our game relies on quick passing and movement – and yes, verticality – and it’s basically as simple as that. If the passing and movement are not there, for whatever physical or mental reasons, it can look like a disorganised shitshow.

      An implication of this is that Wenger’s priority is always to get our game going: personnel, tactics and formation are important but they come second. His first thought is always about the level of the performance, not the structure of the team. This can frustrate those (and I include myself) who want to see tactical changes or formation changes during games where we are struggling.

  3. I think the British core experiment is finished, especially with respect to Wilshere and Ox (I no longer count Jenkinson). I just don’t see a way back for them. Just when you expect them to fulfill their potential, they put in performances that seem regressive. The Ox has been stinking up the place for a long time now, and a late show against tiring, inferior opposition is no evidence that he’s back on track. I would be very, very surprised if he was at Arsenal next season. Though…this is Wenger we’re talking about.

  4. Think Jack’s lost some quickness as well, with his footwork not being as nimble as it was. Or maybe it seems that way because he holds the ball too long.

    Definite potential but I think giving him the No 10 jersey and letting him believe that he was future captain all went to his head a bit, and maybe he didn’t work as hard as he could have, thinking he’d already made it.

    Instead, those things should have been a target for him to achieve through consistently good performances.

    (And I’m not talking about working hard on field, but going that extra mile in training, like Dennis used to do).

    • Yeah, maybe it all went to his head and he didn’t work as hard as he could have (the ungrateful punk!). Or maybe he got repeatedly injured for huge amounts of time season after season after season, and his development was hampered because of it. Who’s to say?

      • Injuries notwithstanding, we’ve seen this happen a lot with English players. Over hyped only to fail and then be mauled by their own media.

        Who’s to say? It’s a theory, that’s what we do, theorize, y’know, since none of us know the inside happenings of the club.

  5. Nice post as usual but I don’t agree with you on Elneny’s. I think he was great along side xhaka yesterday. Both gave us security with regards to keeping the ball and setting the tempo of the game. The guy was always available for team mate.

    • He has a great engine for sure but a center mid can’t be playacting like he’s injured, which he did several times, nor tamely giving the ball away which puts his defenders in trouble. I’ve harbored my doubts about Elneny since he first played for us. I can see his positives but I have to say he looks weak physically and mentally every time I see him play now. I know that makes me unpopular but that’s what I see right now. I’d love for him to prove me wrong but at this point he’s 4th or 5th choice CM for me.

      • Given that we wrapped up the Xhaka deal early in the transfer window, in hindsight Elneny seems a stop gap signing. Remember, at the time Coqzorla was out injured and Arteta was never coming back. We were forced to rely, and I use that term loosely, on Ramsey and Flamini as our deep midfield duo. He was brought in to provide some much needed technical ability and, by reputation, some defensive awareness until Coq and Cazorla came back into the team. And he did that reasonably well. At the very least, it was addition by subtraction in that we could leave Flamini on the bench. In today’s market, he cost a rather paltry £10M so it seems a little overly optimistic to think that he will ever be more than a useful squad player. And he’s still young enough to improve and if he does, we’ll have gotten a bargain. For the price, to get a reserve midfielder with a high degree of technical quality and a great engine who’s got youth on his side seems like decent transfer business.

        • I think my reaction is as a counter balance to the weirdo supporters out there who think Elneny is good enough that he should be starting every game, that he plays defense, and that he’s anything other than what you described. He’s not, he doesn’t, he isn’t.

  6. Agree with you on Elneny, don’t get the hype. He can’t defend and can’t create, so what’s the point? Denilson mark II.

  7. Watching Iwobi, Bielik, and King Jeff I perform last night reminded me why young Wilshere was such a sensation. He had a hybrid of Fabregas’ Latin technique and Scholes’ British Bulldog swagger. These young guys coming through now have a similar technical level. And if they’ve survived the brutal u21 cull that happened over the last couple of seasons, we should be confident in their battling abilities too. It’ll take a miraculous upturn for Jack to find himself in our starting XI again when our priority should be giving the next generation the same shot that Jack had.

    As for Eddie Howe and the deluded British tabloids talking him up as the next Wenger, let him keep Bournemouth up again, get some European experience abroad and come back with his reputation intact first. Right now it’s madness – like saying we should hire the manager of newly-promoted Alaves or Pescara.

  8. On Elneny: by your own admission, you didn’t see the whole game; if you can, go back and watch it again in its entirety. No way anyone can convince me he had anything but a strong game. If by “weak” you mean purely physically, then, yes, I agree he’s not the strongest, something I’m sure Shad and the boys are seeking to address. But mentally/technically/all-around weak? Not seeing it. As for spending time on the ground, that seems to be a relatively minor thing, a habit that players who come to England from other leagues (e.g. Ozil) usually have beaten out of them by premier league bruisers and unsympathetic referees before too long. And yesterday, in the first half at least, he was the victim of an absolutely atrocious studs up tackle by Lansbury (if memory serves).
    It’s fair if you don’t really rate him, but I have to respectfully disagree, and in particular I think he makes a very good partner of Xhaka (both are suburb at one and two touch passing; one has the size, strength, and passing range, while the other has the work rate and mobility).

    • I guess you posted your comment right around the time I was typing mine. Interesting perspective and more in line with what I was expecting/hoping.

  9. I saw the Bournemouth game during the weekend and the first think I noticed about Jack is that he seemed to have lost his burst of speed. He was never the quickest player but he used to possess a burst of speed to get away from his marker. This is probably just down to fitness though. It’s true he wasn’t getting any help from his teammates but overall he looked like a player who is a long, long way away from being good enough to be at Arsenal. You never know though – if he keeps his fitness up and remains focused, there is still time to revive his career.

    Missed the EFL cup game yesterday because I was at work and it wasn’t televised so I had no way of recording it. Great result but disappointing to hear Elneny didn’t perform. I wonder if someone who did see the whole match has a different opinion.

  10. Great stuff today.Lucid summary of Wilshire’s issues, pluses and minuses without being either an apologist or a critic. Nicely done.

    Some think Wilshire is done and over which is sad if true, others still cling to thoughts of him returning to Arsenal as a full-fledged contributor to future successes.

    We know where the smart money would be on that bet which is why I’be rarely gambled with real money. I’m with Jack, just because he knows what we think of Tottenham and he knows what we think of s$%t.

  11. I agree with @Bydeen. I watched the whole game. Xhaka AND Elneny ran the show with impeccable ball circulation. Elneny was the more mobile and dynamic of the two while Xhaka sat and sprayed passes with ridiculous ease: the angles of his passing are simply remarkable! Back to Elneny: We know he had a bad game against Liverpool but it is no reason to stereotype him. He may not have a particular skill that stands him out but his general work rate, security in possession and lack of ego make him a very useful squad player. Certainly an improvement on the departed Flamini, and young enough to improve further…

    • Great stuff. Thanks for the link. I think a 7 am rumination on 20 years of Wenger would be a great read (hint, nudge, wink).

  12. This is unpopular to say but Jack Wilshere should not come back to Arsenal. You cite how he’s being asked to play a different role, but honestly – what is he? What WAS he when he played for us? What is his best role? To be honest, the position you describe sounds tailor made for him – he’s not quick enough to play wide, he’s not sound enough defensively to play at the base. He’s a decent technician, has a bit of energy and can pick out the odd key pass as well as run into the box to score on occasion.

    I know this won’t go over well, but he has character issues beyond football that will ultimately limit his potential as a player on the pitch. And there are a LOT of young talented (British) players with similar character traits that get binned eventually by the top clubs; Joe Hart recently, Andy Carroll, the Spuds rejects at Hull, Ravel Morrison… sure you may argue that Wilshere is better than those players, but not exceptionally better.

  13. Time and tide wait for no man. I really don’t think Wilshere has it in him to perform so well at Bournemouth,in an alien system, that he makes a compelling case for his re-insertion in the Arsenal Matrix. In his absence, young Turks like Iwobi and Reine-Adelaide are likely to flourish while his more physically robust and more professional peers like Coquelin and Elneny will consolidate. Why should Wenger (or a new coach)rip up the system in order to accommodate the returning exile?

  14. Enjoyed the post, sad to see the place jack has ended up sometimes I think it’s all down to injuries.
    Then you regularly get reports of he’s life style and you have to wonder.

  15. I’ve never been a huge fan of Wilshere. I didn’t like talk of future captain etc, but I assumed that just came from the fans who needed a post Tony Adams English figure to identify with. Perhaps that did go to Wilshere’s head. I don’t know. His lifestyle problems are relatively mild though. It only seems drastic because Arsenal don’t encourage that culture among our players, and the British tabloids are s***.

    However, whatever be the case, there is no doubt Wilshere is incredibly talented. I see people rushing to count him out but judging him based on a couple of games, one of them against high flying City, is premature. Especially when he’s primarily gone there to regain fitness. With Cazorla getting older (and the homegrown rule) I’m fairly sure Wilshere will have a place in our squad next year. Whether he has the ability to become a regular is more in doubt. But we’ll see.

    I like Elneny, so I don’t know if it’s just bias. But I don’t see him as anything other than an asset. He’s hard working, keeps the ball moving, makes himself available for the pass, and though overshadowed now by the Xhaka Blasta, also has a decent long range shot on him. Lying down holding his leg? I didn’t notice that, except when Lansbury put a studs up tackle on him, but even if he did that, I don’t see that as a huge negative, nor as something he’ll keep doing.

    I’d also like to spare a few words for the youngsters. Willock got his debut. Zelalem made an appearance. Jeff (debut?) showed some nice skills (though he’s got some improving to do in terms of knowing when to do what, and especially defensive positioning), Akpom did well even in an unfamiliar position, Maitland-Niles as RB did well enough to probably end Debuchy’s Arsenal career, and birthday boy Rob Holding did very well the whole game, and especially after getting booked (from an Elneny error I think)

    Good to get some oil in the engine. Hope we steamroll Chelsea.

    • Jeorge Bird thinks Akpom should always be a left winger; better space for his dribbling and less pressure on him to score. Seems like it worked in this game but can he find his way into the first team from there? Could be tough for him just to surpass Iwobi and astronomically more tough to surpass Alexis should the Chilean drop back from this center forward role.

      • Hmmm. I don’t know. While he hasn’t set the scoring charts alive, from what (little) I’ve seen of him, I really like the way he has an instinct to get into good goal scoring positions in the box. But sure, I don’t mind him playing wide if it’ll help the team and add to his development.

        I think as a winger he could overtake Ox this year if Ox’s bad form continues (hopefully the goal will spark him back to life) and Akpom keeps working hard.

  16. Three comments:

    1. Iwobi needs to work on defensive positioning / responsibility. If he can match there what he has going forward, he’s competing for a spot against anyone.

    2. Wenger said that for ACL and other serious injuries, between pace and confidence, it takes a year. We need patience with the Ox.

    3. Same applies to Wilshire and Theo. Theo may now be over the hump. Kudos. I said some harsh things about him last year (and thought worse). Still think he’s most effective when there is space behind = draw against a team playing to win or we are ahead. Not yet convinced he can work against a parked bus.

  17. Been reading you since near to your inception Tim and I have to say this is the best Arsenal blog I know of. Always interesting, well thought out and sensible, which is refreshing in this age where everything must be bigger, louder and more outrageous to be noticed. Kudos to you, sir.

  18. Wilshire is one more sad Arsenal case of What Could Have Been.

    To paraphrase the infamous undershirt of a certain dodgy Italian whose career is circling the drain in far worse fashion than our Jack, Why Always Us?

  19. See if you can watch the full match on Youtube or somesuch, I bet your take on Elneny’s game will change with some actual evidence.

  20. Mortimer-your timing couldn’t be better- Balotelli just scored his second brace in as many Ligue Un matches to send Nice top. I do believe Nice has found their niche in resuscitating near-dead careers. Maybe that would’ve been a good place for Jack.

  21. Hinewonhere,iwouldliketohereffromyouallabout,ramseyinmybookfromlastyearwatchedeverygameonfoxinAustraliainmybookhedropshisheadifitdosnot gohisway,thesamewithgiroudshouldshaveeoffthewiskessorstopblamingthemanupstairs.thanks.

  22. Hi Bunburyist.
    In one of your comments you mention that you think the British Core experiment has failed. Do you think those guys were part of an actual experiment on Arsene’s part to to have a predominantly British side? I’ve always figured the British Core thing was more a PR exercise than anything else. Rather than going out of his way to recruit British players I saw it as more that, because of the homegrown rules, he happened to have a few decent British players at the right age at the same time and presenting them together in a photo played well to the British media. I thought it was more a ‘happy accident’ than anything else.

    • I wrote a piece about it back when he made his statement, using his own quotes. He believes strongly in having a core of British players at the club. Always has.

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