Welcome back. It was only a few years ago that Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey were being touted as Arsenal’s central midfield double-act of the future – British bedrocks on which we could build a new team following the departures of the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song in consecutive summers.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way, what with Jack being injured more often than not during that time, and Aaron, despite enjoying one superb season stationed centrally in 2013-2014, now looking more and more like a player better suited to playing further up the pitch.
In fact, despite England’s management preferring to deploy Wilshere as a deep playmaker, Arsene Wenger is on record as saying he views the midfielder’s best position as also being closer to the opposition goal, in what would be one of the three attacking roles behind the striker in our current system.
As much as I rate the pair of them, barring injuries, neither will dislodge Alexis Sanchez from the left or relieve Mesut Ozil from his no 10 duties any time soon, so in effect, Ramsey and Wilshere find themselves in competition with one another – and several others too – to be first-choice on the right.
Yet the former has been pretty open about preferring to play more centrally and highlighted what he thinks it takes to play that position in the modern game when he spoke to Arsenal Player:
It’s obviously a balance but if you do sense an opportunity to break away from your man to get into the box or to be free in the box, you have to take it because you can score a goal from it. But you have to get back in as quickly as possible and when you are, try to get a bit of a breather then. And then it all starts again. I prefer to get forward, to get on the end of things, to create things. But it’s important to defend and help the team out defensively as well. But it’s also nice when you win the ball in quite a deep position and then you can start an attack which leads to a goal. That’s quite rewarding as well. An all-round midfielder needs to have that, where you can defend, you can tackle, you can create goals, you can score goals. That’s the complete midfielder that I want to be. Your time on the ball is definitely a lot shorter now so you have to try and make your decisions and try and have options a lot quicker than before. It’s just the way the game is going. It’s becoming a lot quicker, a lot more physical, so you have to be able to make decisions a lot quicker and move the ball quicker as well. I feel really confident and comfortable in the middle. I back myself to put in performances every week. The game is always developing and the demands are always a bit more every season. Hopefully I can continue developing as a player. I think there’s definitely more to come.
Although he says you have to ‘move the ball quicker’, it’s making the right pass at the right time with accuracy, as well as speed, that is surely a key requirement for a central midfielder, because in a style such as ours, being an efficient and reliable distributor is arguably the most important skill-set to have. I mean, there’s no point being quick to release the ball if your’re clubbing it out for an opposition throw, or misplacing the simplest of five-yard passes.
Santi Cazorla is undoubtedly a cut or ten above, but although he’s a ferocious ball-winner, intelligent interceptor and great reader of opposition attacks first and foremost, Francis Coquelin is also better passer than Ramsey in my opinion. All of which is to say if Aaron wants to play in what he thinks is his best role in the middle, he needs to work on his passing big-time, as far as I’m concerned.
What would help is if he could improve his ball-control too, had better spatial awareness and had a picture of what he wanted to do with the ball before he received it, but I’m not sure those things can be developed on the training pitch. You either have them or not and unfortunately for the Welshman and us as fans, he doesn’t.
Meanwhile, Wilshere, who I think is better equipped to play centrally than Ramsey, due to being a much better passer and having far better close control and awareness, says he sees light at the end of the tunnel in his recovery from another long-term injury:
[My recovery is] going well. I’m back on the pitch and I’m just trying to build my fitness up because everyone knows how tough it is to play in the Premier League. I’m working on it and I’m slowly getting there. Sometimes it’s been difficult to stay positive, especially after the injuries that I’ve had which have been frustrating, but as the injury goes, you get closer to full fitness and you see the light at the end of the tunnel, then you start to think about coming back and getting involved in the team.
With Santi side-lined, what I’d give to have a fit and firing Wilshere right now. I think of all the alternatives to the Spaniard in our current squad, Wilshere is the one player who would compliment Coquelin in the middle and successfully take on the mantle of dictating our play from deep.
I can see why Arsene likes Wilshere further forward, and I think he could be equally good there seeing as he’s a genuinely good footballer. But perhaps, Wilshere and Coquelin, rather than Wilshere and Ramsey, or Ramsey and Coquelin, will prove our long-term partnership in front of the defence given the chance, seeing as Cazorla turns 32 in December.
In our current situation, the Wilsh-Coq combo would go a long way in rectifying our recent Santi-less stuttering in my opinion, making it all the more galling the England man’s still some way from a return.
See you tomorrow.