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.
Wilshere with the turnover and foul that led to de Bruyne’s first goal. pic.twitter.com/prNxGB1YUp
— 7amkickoff (@7amkickoff) September 20, 2016
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.