Will Wilshere & Co Get Back In The Team?
On Tuesday evening, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Serge Gnabry took significant steps on their respective recovery roads by playing for the U-21s at Emirates Stadium. U-21 Premier League rules limit teams to three players over the age of 21 in the starting line-up, which would explain Mathieu Debuchy’s omission from this treatment room reunion party. Given that Debuchy’s injury was not muscular, one would imagine he was less in need of the workout. He will almost certainly be ready for the trip to Burnley on Saturday.
It is an exercise in futility to forensically analyse a player’s performance at this stage of recovery and in a non-competitive fixture. All four players looked fit and sharp, which is all that matters. Arteta played for 60 minutes, Diaby for 70 (you would imagine their substitutions were pre-arranged), whilst Wilshere and Gnabry managed the full 90 minutes. So how much of a role does each man have to play in the season finale? I decided to take each player in turn and second guess whereabouts they figure in the manager’s grey matter.
To view the progression of Héctor Bellerin this season has been to watch the polishing of a diamond. The Spaniard has been a mini revelation and has grabbed the chance afforded him by a pair of freak Debuchy injuries. That said, I fully expect Mathieu Debuchy to go straight back into the team at right back and wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him start at Burnley at Bellerin’s expense. With the season getting squeakier of bum, Debuchy’s experience will be preferred I think.
Whilst Bellerin’s form (and effortless quiff) has been a joy to behold, at barely 20 years old, his horn is still a little green. He has struggled in games where the team has struggled, against Monaco and Tottenham for example. I thought Raheem Sterling gave him a bit of a tough time when he switched to Héctor’s side on Saturday, where he was forced into the concession of a penalty. At Old Trafford, he was perilously close to being red carded until the manager’s intervention from the touchline, where he was replaced by Calum Chambers.
Bellerin’s development will be allowed to continue in the coming years and he will certainly be needed again before the season’s conclusion. When Arsenal come under sustained pressure, Bellerin’s inexperience shows a little, which you would expect at his age. For now, Debuchy is a safer pair of hands. Like Sagna, he gives the defence a little more aerial presence and he is also a little savvier about covering his centre halves. Not least on the back post, where Debuchy’s height and awareness come in very handy. I expect the Frenchman to pick up pretty much where he left off.
A player almost as misunderstood as Mesut Özil when it comes to popular recognition of his attributes. (I said ‘almost’, ok.) I happen to think that the signing of Arteta is one of the most effective that Arsene Wenger has made in the last decade when you recall the disarray that the club was in when he joined. Arteta has been a valuable cog in the Arsenal wheel for nearly four years and he is a player, perhaps more than any other, the manager trusts and admires implicitly. If the role of captain is to be the umbilical cord between the manager and the team then it is easy to see why Arteta has the armband.
That said, the Spaniard is going to have his work cut out winning his place back in the team. If the emergence of Bellerin has been a mini revelation, then the reincarnation of Francis Coquelin’s Arsenal career has been biblical. It isn’t just Coquelin’s momentum that could cause Arteta an issue, but it could be argued that the balance and the impetus of the team has shifted in concert with Coquelin’s rejuvenation. Last week I wrote that Arsenal’s move to a slightly more dynamic setup could spell trouble for Per Mertesacker and it could for Arteta for much the same reason.
Arteta’s ‘rope-a-dope’ approach to defending stands in stark contrast to Coquelin’s ‘let me at ‘em’ overture. Ultimately, the two could work together and I imagine Wenger will twin Coquelin and Arteta at least once before the season is out. Initially, Arteta and Diaby swapped the deeper position in the midfield in the U-21s fixture on Tuesday night and that experiment might have been informed by the manager’s thought process. But it does feel similar to Gilberto’s return from Copa America in the 2007-08 season. The older, more considered screening midfielder finding his path to the starting XI blocked by a French terrier.
In the early part of the season, it did feel as though Wilshere was something of a third wheel in the Gunners midfield as the team struggled for balance. The awkward partnership with Ramsey may well have worked itself out in time and as wider team familiarity began to germinate. There are plenty of individuals in the Arsenal squad whose form has improved since the autumn and that’s a symptom of the team performing better as a unit.
That said, it is difficult to see Wilshere as anything other than a supersub for the rest of the season, which was pretty much the exact situation he found himself in this time last season as he returned from injury. With Cazorla and Ramsey ahead of him and with Arteta a further option for the link role in the central midfield, his route into the team is congested. He will need games to reacclimatise and at this stage of the season and the manager will not be able to exercise any patience with ring rust. What Wilshere does have going for him is that he is a good substitute for most scenarios.
In last year’s Cup Final for instance, his energy was both a device for upping the impetus of Arsenal’s play and a weapon to feast on the tiring legs of the enemy. His ability to carry the ball over long distances can act as a pressure valve defensively, but can also be used to create pressure for the opposition. At times it feels like Jack’s versatile attributes work against him and prevent him from really carving out a role in the team, but in the short term, he can certainly use it to his advantage. But it will probably have to be from the bench.
Unless Arsenal have the luxury of a dead rubber match at the end of the season, I would be surprised to see Gnabry involved in the first team at any level in lieu of any injury crisis. I think the focus will be on getting him fit for next season. I would imagine that the manager will then assess him in pre-season, before making a late summer call as to whether he should be sent on loan for 2015-16. His position is very well stocked and opportunities may be scarce, even when he is fully fit. Though if Campbell, Walcott and Podolski all leave this summer, the manager might just be forced to look a little closer at Serge.
Unfortunately, I think Diaby’s U-21 appearances are very much a case of fattening him up for a sale. Despite his lengthy absence from the team this season, the manager has barely mentioned him within the tissue of his injury updates. Indeed, we don’t even know precisely what has kept Diaby out since he played 66 minutes against Southampton in the League Cup in September. It’s obvious by now that he was never considered a first team player this season and his aspirations now surely involve proving his fitness for a contract elsewhere.your own article on YouWrite?
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Tags: Wilshere, Arteta, Gnabry, Fitness, Diaby, Debuchy, Injury