The Arsenal midfielder’s reaction suggests he is once again integral to the ambitions of both.
Roy Hodgson’s decision to employ Wilshere in the midfield holding role for England sparked a debate about the player’s best position. On Saturday, Arsene Wenger gave him more freedom, pushing Wilshere forward and the midfielder excelled. The debate will continue and reflects the expectations once again being placed on the young man’s shoulders.
Wilshere, lest we forget, is only 22. Already, though, he is viewed as a long-in-the-tooth veteran and the injury scars that pockmark the midfielder’s body only reinforce the impression he has plenty of miles under the belt. Those injuries, though, have stalled the player’s progress, rendering him a work in progress rather than the finished article many thought he would be by now after establishing himself in Wenger’s first team four years ago.
To that end, the demands of adapting to a different role when away on international duty might be regarded as an unnecessary burden at a moment widely regarded a pivotal in an emerging career.
Wenger acknowledged the experience might add to Wilshere’s skill-set, but is in no doubt where the midfielder is best suited, and his player’s contribution in Saturday’s draw did nothing to dissuade the Frenchman.
“It can help him to do both as he has a good football brain but it suits him naturally to win the ball and dribble in front of the defence,” said the manager. “He can penetrate in the final third. I am not against him playing in a deeper role though.”
Those were exactly the skills Wilshere exhibited to drag Arsenal back into a game that, until the midfielder’s 64th-minute equaliser, was following a painfully familiar pattern for Wenger’s side. Impressive going forward, they were unable to find a cutting edge despite the best efforts of Danny Welbeck, the forward signed for £16m from Manchester United on deadline day, and fell behind to a surgical strike from Sergio Aguero as their flimsy defences was exposed.
Arsenal needed a response and Wilshere provided it, robbing Aguero in midfield with the kind of challenge a holding midfielder would resist in case of failure — and one that irked City manager Manuel Pellegrini — before exchanging passes with Aaron Ramsey and finishing expertly after rounding Gael Clichy. Wilshere used to be compared with Paul Gascoigne in his pomp, and parallels could be seen once again.
Wenger credits the midfielder’s return to fitness as key to his evolution from supporting role to game-changer. “He was a boy who was always dangerous in the final third,” said the manager. “He is penetrative and that is why I prefer him to be playing up there. One of his qualities is to penetrate in the final third. He stays on his feet which is the big difference. When he was not as confident, he would push on his ankle and go down on his body. He is more solid in this aspect.”
Wilshere’s equaliser inspired his side and Alexis Sanchez put the hosts ahead with an excellent volley 10 minutes later, only for those defensive frailties to emerge once again, when Martin Demichelis was free to head City’s 84th-minute equaliser. Nonetheless there were signs Arsenal have more steel this season which will do them no harm when they travel to face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League this week. City also visit Germany for the more daunting challenge of Bayern Munich, a rerun of the game that turned their season last year.
The 2-1 win in Munich may have meant nothing in the context of another failed attempt to progress from their group, but it provided a fillip that helped drive City’s successful title challenge, and Pellegrini believes his side can marry domestic and European ambitions this season.
“The group is similar to last year, we have Bayern Munich — they are the most strong team but I think this team has a greater personality to try to win everywhere,” said the manager. “We showed that here against Arsenal. Last year we lost against Cardiff and the first three away. We finished beating Bayern in Munich and I think we were the team who won most points away in the second round of the Premier League. Now we have personality to go and try to play everywhere in the same way.”
ARSENAL (4-1-4-1) : Szczesny 7; Debuchy 7 (Chambers 81,6), Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 7, Monreal 5; Flamini 5 (Arteta 90); Sanchez 7, Ramsey 6, Wilshere 9, Ozil 6; Welbeck 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 88)
MAN CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart 6; Zabaleta 7, Kompany 8, Demichelis 7, Clichy 7; Fernandinho 7 (Kolarov 76, 6), Lampard 4 (Nasri 46); Navas 8, Silva 7, Milner 7; Aguero 8 (Dzeko 67, 6).
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.