Another brilliant performance by Jack Wilshere last night. His 3rd Man of the Match in a row in an England shirt. His 3rd whilst playing defensive midfield. And it is much deserved. He ran the games, looked a class above, and is finally showing his mad potential that we all noticed when we all watched the youtube video of his performance against West Ham.
I have long been a critic of Jack Wilshere, but this season he seems to have matured, stayed injury free and is developing into the player we all knew he could become.
One thing is for certain, however, he is not a defensive midfielder.
Over the last few days, I have seen him compared with the likes of Xabi Alonso and Andrea Pirlo. Whilst it is true, that he shares similar attributes to these, strong in defence, good on the ball, brilliant vision, the fact is, neither he, nor Alonso or Pirlo, are defensive midfielder’s, in the truest sense.
A defensive midfielder’s job is primarily to defend. To protect the back four. Think Claude Makelele, Gilberto Silva, Javier Mascherano. The primary job of Alonso and Pirlo is not to protect the back four, but to get play started from deep.
They pick the ball up off the defence, or off their fellow midfielder, and begin the attacks. The ability to play short passes and move through the pitch at the same pace of the ball, or notice space behind the ball and play it forward quickly. In the over complicated world of micro positions, you would describe them as deep lying play makers. And that is what Wilshere could become.
When you look at both Pirlo and Alonso at their best, they always played with someone next to them, a player with stronger defensive tendencies.
Andrea Pirlo arguably created the deep lying play maker position. But he always played with someone more defensive beside him. for his entire time at AC Milan, that man was Gennaro Gatusso.
Gatusso would do the dirty work. He would run the hard miles. Put in the challenges. Win the ball. Then pass to Pirlo. It worked. Whilst Pirlo added the extra next time him when more defending was needed, Gatusso gave Pirlo the license to move forward, join the attacks, create goals.
With his legs going, and a move to Juventus, Pirlo moved deeper, but he still had someone next to him who put in the hard yards. In fact, Jventus went further. To get the best out of Pirlo, they played him in a 3, alongside Claudio Marchisio and fellow new signing Arturo Vidal. Both of these provided the defensive wall, allowing Pirlo to get up the pitch and neglect defensive duties when required.
Even for Italy, where his deeper position is often more highlighted, Pirlo has been partnered with someone more defensive. Whether it be the previously mentioned Gatusso or Marchisio, or Roma’s Daniele De Rossi.
Deep lying yet, but Pirlo is certainly not a defensive midfielder.
Xabi Alonso has a similar history of playing alongside someone more defensive throughout his career. At Liverpool is was Dietmar Hamann, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva. When he moved to Real Madrid he partnered Lassana Diarra and Sami Khedira, and now plays in the middle with the likes of Javi Martinez and Phillip Lahm at Bayern Munich.
It is the same story for Spain, where his regular partner has been Sergio Busquets.
So what does this mean for Jack Wilshere?
He can emulate what Alonso and Pirlo have achieved in their careers. But to do so, for both club and country, someone more defensive needs play next to him.
At international level, that man could be Jordan Henderson. He is more naturally defensive than Wilshere and covers more ground. Putting him at the base of the diamond, or alongside Wilshere, will allow Jack to drive forward when necessary, freeing him up to play the sort of pass which set up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for England’s opener last night.
At club level, Arsenal do not currently have someone who can play that role. We all know we need a defensive midfielder. We need to buy one. Jack Wilshere will not be the answer.
At club level, if we get the defensive midfielder in, Wilshere will then be freed up to join the attacks. He also has the steel and defensive ability to assist his partner if the backs are against the wall.
With a new defensive midfielder, and Mesut Ozil at the top of the midfield 3, it becomes a straight shoot out between Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere as to who plays between them. Both have similar, and different, attributes. Both also have a tendency to pick up injuries, meaning both can be accommodated.
The future is bright in the middle of the park for Arsenal. But it will be even stronger once we get the defensive midfielder in. And that defensive midfielder is not Jack Wilshere.