Wilshere should take the offer from Arsenal (if it is still on the table)

I feel like I should start writing my “Ode to Jack Wilshere” post soon. You know, the one where I compile the statistical dossier of Jack’s career and we get all weepy eyed as he slowly slips into the Veil like Sirius Black during the battle at the Ministry of Magic.

I’ve seen a number of articles suggesting that Arsenal should pay whatever Jack wants and I understand this impulse. Jack has been at Arsenal his entire career, he’s the most talented player the academy has produced in 20 years, and there’s the not so small emotional factor that his career has been tragic.

I’m not going to pretend that this is a comprehensive history so let’s pick up at his highest moment. After a man of the match performance against Barcelona, where he was nearly the only Arsenal player able to retain possession against Guardiola’s high energy high pressing all conquering Barcelona side, the Catalan manager purred “Special. [Wilshere] left a massive impression. A high, high level.”

And again in the second leg Wilshere played a massive role. Arsenal were down to 10 men after the referee showed van Persie a red card for the crime of shooting the ball at Barcelona. And as Arsenal hung on for dear life, it was Wilshere who won the ball and delivered what should have been the game-winning pass onto the feet of Nicklas Bendtner. But by the grace of Bendtner, he missed. It wasn’t just one pass. Jack bossed the best midfield in Europe, trained by the obsessive control freak, Pep Guardiola. It was such a high level performance that it left Barcelona midfielder Xavi to call him the future of English football – six years later.

But that performance was 2010/2011.

It was the summer after the best season of his life and just seven minutes into a pre-season match against the New York Red Bulls, Wilshere limped off the pitch, replaced by Benik Afobe. From that point on, 2011/12 was a write-off – Wenger originally proclaimed it just swelling, even saying “It is not very serious but it is serious because they say he might be out for all of next week – it’s an ankle inflammation but he has not torn anything. He is a quick healer usually and a tough boy, so I hope he will be quicker than the medical prediction.” He wasn’t. He didn’t play a single match for Arsenal in 2011/12.

In 2012/13 he played just 2,533 minutes for Arsenal, the equivalent of 28 full games, due to stop-start injuries.

In 2013/14 he suffered two more injuries, which limited his playing time to just 2,500 minutes. This was the season he scored the best goal of his career, the famous “goal against Norwich.”

The next season, he returned strong but he nearly missed the entire season after a tackle by Paddy McNair in November which left him facing another surgery. Wenger described the boy as “very distraught” after learning that he needed to undergo the knife again – he played just 1,479 minutes in 2014/15.

If that was distressing, 2015/16 must have been his second nadir: he missed 47 games after suffering a hairline fracture in training.

On his triumphant return to football, Jack took the unusual decision to go out on loan. Perhaps eager to prove himself for England, perhaps anxious over playing opportunities at Arsenal. Either way, Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe only played him 1913 minutes in 27 appearances and right before he was injured, Howe had relegated the former England international to a bench role before dropping him completely for a player who put in more work off the ball. Despite Jack Wilshere’s obvious talents Howe was forced to make the change to save Bournemouth’s season.

It wasn’t like Jack didn’t show flashes of class. Every match I watched he looked like a senior player winding down his career: solidly the best player on the field, oozing class (as Owen Coyle once said), but just not quite fitting in with Howe’s up-tempo approach.

Wilshere returned this season and has had a number of good matches. He’s been especially good in the Europa League, perhaps part of his appeal is that he seems like one of the most continental of Arsenal’s English footballers.

I empathize with Wilshere. He’s a 26 year old man who has missed two full years of training, at crucial moments, for his career. He’s also a 26 year old man with the body of a 32 year old man: he’s been sliced open by opponents, teammates, and surgeons so many times that I shudder to think what he knees and ankles must look like.

Jack should be coming into his prime. Teams should be clamoring for his signature. He should be worth tens of millions to opponents. He should. But Jack’s career has been like a teenager trying to learn to drive stick: it lurches about half a dozen times, leaps forward, and dies. He starts the car up again, it pitches again twice, jerks forward and dies with a wheeze. And now here he is starting the car up again while his dad sitting next to him is telling him to feather the clutch.

Arsenal offered him a reduced contract and Jack revealed that Wenger told him last summer that he could leave if he could find a club. He didn’t. He’s also not signing the reduced contract any time soon.

Beyond the problem with Wilshere’s injury record, and stop-start development at Arsenal is that he’s not first choice for any role. In CM, he is like Santi in that he’s a dribbler. But his dribbles are markedly different than Cazorla’s. He’s more of an open field dribbler, he likes to push the ball three yards and then catch up to it. I think this is called a “cow dribble” in some parts of the world. It’s very effective if you still have that explosive first step and the opposition is well spaced.

Cazorla on the other hand is much more of a close control player. Cazorla is also the most two-footed player I have seen in my entire time watching football, and I don’t think that’s hyperbole. This allows him to create moves and get out of trouble in ways that Wilshere can’t. This video below shows one particularly devastating attack by Cazorla against Man City. He beats three guys out of defense before they resort to just fouling him to stop the counter.

Neither player is a hard nosed defender and both players like to create from a combination of long and short passes. Both players love that splitting throughball pass that is so good at creating big chances.

Those are the obvious things. The subtle way in which Wilshere has improved this season is in his ability to move the opposition. This was Pep Guardiola’s secret superpower. Pep was never a powerful player, not the best dribbler, but he could move his opponents around the pitch like a Chess master. Wilshere has seemed to develop this ability and despite still being entirely left-legged has had some masterful matches manipulating the opposition midfield.

Here against Newcastle, Jack draws in three defenders leaving a huge hole on his left:

His teammates (Xhaka, Iwobi, and Alexis) fail to move into that space, so Jack dribbles past these three cones and takes the space for himself.

Jack has now single-handedly advanced the ball, beaten Perez (not pictured) and now has once again manipulated three Newcastle players into closing him down. Lacazette (top) make a run behind the defender, leaving Jack the only option, dump the ball to Alexis.

As good as he is at manipulating opposition players with his dribbles, he still sometimes over-elaborates. This time we pick up him dribbling against Cry Pal.

Here, Jack collects the ball and you can already see Ozil making the run to where he needs to be (where the referee is standing). Jack fails to control first touch and can’t use his right foot to meet Ozil with an easy pass. So he instead dribbles into Xhaka.

He’s actually created MORE space for Ozil and if he passed the ball right now, Mesut has a great counter. Please note Xhaka – and this is a side note but – in both stills (this example and the one against Newcastle) is basically doing nothing. He doesn’t move to create space and he is always seemingly in the way, bringing his defender with him to help defend Wilshere. But Jack doesn’t make the pass and instead dribbles right at Xhaka.

It looks like Ozil is standing with his hands on his hips, he’s not. Xhaka has finally moved and STILL.. Jack should be making this pass. He doesn’t.

Instead he’s dribbled into a trap. Xhaka is still not helping the situation and to be fair, it’s impossible to help if someone dribbles right at you. Jack does squeeze the ball between these two defenders and gets it to the forward who dumps it immediately to Ozil. But here is Jack trying to do too much, manipulating players, but doing it in exactly the wrong way; over-elaborating, dribbling at his teammates, and despite the sort of heart-stopping action, slowing the game down. In desperation Jack doesn’t even pick out a teammate, he just dumps it into space.

Now, obviously, everyone has bad plays and everyone makes mistakes but these aren’t just one-off examples of his brilliance and flaws. They are examples of plays we see all the time with Wilshere. Those stills are from a video called “Magician Reborn” and while it’s meant to be a positive look at Wilshere, I think it shows both his positives and his flaws.

As for other roles Wilshere can play, he’s been touted as a DM by some because he nominally played there for the English national team. He’s also said this season that he’s no longer going in for rash challenges. He was known for that as a youth, that “red mist” that the English so dearly love/hate. But watch that video linked above, he does it three times! Those are all highlights from this season. If I was a player with such a horrible injury record, I would never lunge in for a tackle, least of all when the player was so close to the ball.

And further up the pitch, Jack has had his position usurped by players who were simply better than him. He’s never going to take over the #10 role while Ozil is still capable.

The contract offer from Arsenal was a realistic one. It offers him £4m a year to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world. In fact, I would say that Arsenal’s offer was a pretty big gamble. Wilshere is far from the complete product and at 26 he really should be. Moreover, he’s a massive injury liability (he’s been injured again at practice for England this week). And given his injury history, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to play well into his 30s. So, this contract is a chance to prove his fitness and to prove that he can still grow into the player that so many predicted.

He should take it.



  1. I listened to the Arseblog phone-in podcast yesterday — which was mostly painful, especially when, in response to inane questions regarding Wenger, Wilshere, Europa, etc., Andrew was forced to reheat his stance on issues he’s already talked about plenty enough on the regular podcasts — and there was one guy who called in to say, in all seriousness, that Wilshere has been Arsenal’s best player this season, and that he would go all out to offer Wilshere, even if it’s at the expense of Ramsey.

    People really think this way. I like Wilshere just fine, but for all the reasons you mention above, there’s no way we should be offering more than what’s already on the table, and I would also argue that Ramsey is a better player and more essential (though I guess that’s matter for another debate). If I were Wilshere, I’d seriously consider offers from just about any other league in Europe, especially Italy perhaps, where his movement and talents might better thrive outside of the blood and thunder of the Premier League.

    1. I watched five of his “dibble exhibition” videos and was struck by how often he uses the “cow dribble”. It’s remarkable. Probably 90% or more of his take ons are him pushing the ball 3 yards. Then I noticed that in this season’s videos what we see are a second player shutting him down with a foul. These are “highlight” reels so they aren’t showing all the times that the second player takes the ball away from Jack. My suspicion is that teams in the Premier League have figured out that Jack is a one-trick dribbler and they know how to take the ball away from him. If that’s the case, then clubs in Italy (let’s face it, English clubs are just now entering the 90’s in terms of tactics) will figure that out even quicker and he will be rendered ineffective within a very few matches.

      The only places I can see him going and being a good player are places like Everton. Somewhere where his second/third tier talent is a step up from what they have. He’s basically a more fragile Ross Barkley.

  2. Superb article. One of 7am’s best, I’d venture. So much detail and insight. See how inspiring a bit of venting can be? 😉

    I love Jack and want him to stay, but won’t be surprised if he leaves. That’s not solely down to him… Arsene’s Arsenal is being dismantled before our eyes, and it’s been clear for sometime now that it’s whether Arsene likes it or not. Giroud, Walcott, Sanchez, Coquelin, Debuchy gone in one extraordinary mid-season window. I fear there’s more to come.

    The truth is that we’ve got to make some tough decisions about our midfield. Jack, Xhaka, Ramsey, Elneny and Maitland-Niles are too heavily weighted towards attack, even though Elneny’s improvement going forward and covering back has been quite marked.

    We are not going to beat good teams playing Ramsey, Xhaka, Jack and Ozil in the same XI. And as much as Goretzka is unsettled and is a very, very good player, he’s more of the same. Im hearing that Adrien Rabiot is unsettled. Perhaps we should take a punt.

    So the midfield balance is another reason Im not going to be surprised to see Jack go. His contract offer is a clear sign that he’s expendable.

    Missing these friendlies is a blow too, because his chances of putting himself in the shop window in Russia have been greatly diminished.

    All that said, he’s sometimes looked the most educated Arsenal player in games that call for guile and craft. Even when Mesut is playing. He also has the ferrying ability that we’ve been missing since our great little man Santi was in his pomp. No one else in our midfield has that. He has in the past tended to over-dribble (and invite rash challenges) but one of the reasons for his superb form this season is that he’s become better at deciding when to release the ball.

    From where he was last season, to how far he’s come back, is testament to the hard work he put in. Nuff respect to him.

    1. And a more careful re-read of your thorough analysis of Jack v Palace shows that even though he’s got ferrying ability, he doesn’t always use it tactically well. Mesut is waiting for what looks like a year to receive a simple pass. Im surprised, because Jack looks like he’s playing with his head down. The very best readers in the middle of the park (Arsenal Fabregas) ALWAYS have their head up, and see everything around them. Hopefully that’s an aberration, because one of Jack’s strengths is his combo play — short pass and move; give, go and receive. It may be a consistency thing.

      Question… who out there can we buy to replicate what Santi gave us? And can he play effectively with any of our current midfielders?

  3. It’s the details of this contract that matter. How much does jack stand to make per week if fit and playing? If his max earning potential falls way below what is reasonable then sure. But we only really know the base – and that in itself sounds decent.

    What big team would offer him better? I can’t see any except Chelsea – but that would mean another overrated English CM. Maybe Spurs? I cant see Mr Arsenal Jack Wilshere going for that…

  4. That was a thoroughly enjoyable read. You made some very good points on his strengths and weaknesses, and I especially liked the comparison to Santi Cazorla .

    I agree, it’s a gamble from Arsenal to offer the contract in the first place. It might not pay off, and we might get fans cursing at the club if/when jack gets injured again. However, objectively at this moment of time it will be hard to pass on that gamble. For all his deficiencies and injury record, Jack can be a very valuable asset to the club, and has at least been useful if not exhilarating this season. He would be wrong to pass on the opportunity.

  5. Tim, you imply, but don’t outright state that injuries have robbed Jack of his burst, that jolt of quickness that allows for separation. I think it was one of, if not his biggest asset. I’ve been watching all season to see if it returns, but it hasn’t yet, so I doubt it will. He’s still good at getting where he wants to go, but used to be able to make a yard or two of space at will, and now he can’t. Without his acceleration, which was near Hazard’s level, he’s a much less dominant footballer. Makes me think you’re spot on about the fact that his body is prematurely worn out. We see it all the time with basketball players. (Isaiah Thomas being the most recent example. It happened to Deron Williams too.)

  6. Nice read.
    “He’s also a 26 year old man with the body of a 32 year old man.” I think that’s the key to understand what’s happening to Wilshere now and why he hasn’t fulfilled his potential.
    “The subtle way in which Wilshere has improved this season is in his ability to move the opposition.” Agree. I think Wilshere’s best chance to age well is to simplify his game and play like an old Fabregas. He would also need to read the game better (Fabregas has a clear picture of his teammates when he gets the ball).

  7. What’s missing from this analysis is that Wilshere is not just a dribbler, he’s also a passer and looks after the ball. His game is adjusting away from being that accelerating dribbler towards being more of a registra-type, but he can play further forward as well as further back. He’s very, very useful in the half spaces and worth much more to a team like Arsenal than he is to a team like Bournemouth or Everton. He’s also demonstrated that he keeps his head in the big games. I’m happy to see his name on the team sheet, and not because I want a dribbly wonder.

    In the current market, he’s worth more than 80K a week. I think it’s short-sighted by Arsenal, and even more so when you consider the potential cost of replacing him, the risk associated with replacing him, and the service he’s already given. For me (and I think for Wenger, and Ferguson) loyalty counts for something, and it’s a two-way street.

  8. He should take the offer…but I really hope he doesn’t.
    It’s hard to say he’s a busted flush but I think his best days are behind him. He’s more ponderous on the ball than he used to be, gives it up far too often and doesn’t generally track back.
    We’ve got a whole slew of better no. 10s, which means his natural slot would be as the perfect home grown Santi replacement but, as noted, he lacks Santi’s speed of thought and execution, as well as his close ball skills.
    If he’s only going to be a squad player for us, I hope he goes somewhere else – Everton? Milan? – where he can be their first choice no. 10 or deeper lying midfield maestro. He needs to be in a team where he’s a first team player.

  9. This was a fascinating read about a player whose next career decisions will help us define what kind of club we are. Do we keep the academy product around hoping he rediscovers his full range of talent, or do we accept that midfield has been our biggest weakness over the last few years and pass the baton (and his no 10 shirt) to a different player(s)?

    Wilshere should have been as good as Verratti. He reminds me of Ever Banega, who lost six months of football after his own car ran over his foot when he was at Valencia. Banega hasn’t had as many injuries as Jack, but he’s had to overcome a lot of off-field trouble and fought his way back to becoming a key player in Sevillla’s run to the CL quarter-finals.

    I don’t think Jack has that kind of redemption in him. Is he even worth a squad place next year? I’d rather we cut ties and give under-21s with world-class potential like Tanguy Ndombele or Frenkie de Jong the same opportunities that young Jack got.

  10. I’m over the moon, Kicker, which is as reliable as it gets with these things, is telling that Tuchelhas declined Bayern Munich to take on Arsenal next season which is all kinds of awesome. Apparently it was leaked because Bayern bumbled around the succession plans for Henyckes and were told by Tuchel now he isn’t interested naymore because he gave his word to Arsenal already.
    This is pretty good news, his Mainz and BVB teams were pretty good to watch, tactically were flexible. He himself is a bit of a prick, very independent and demanding, more distant to his players than say Klopp e.g. Which fits kinda well considering our structure and the current co-dependence, he will demand the tools for him to suceed.

    1. ….and there’s the demento by the also very reliable Sueddeutsche Zeitung. IT’s apparently not Arsenal. Hmpf, serves me right to get caught up in the speculation drama.

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