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It’s Jack Wilshere’s time to shine against Chelsea!

Considering Arsenal continue to struggle against top-class opposition, it’s worth remembering that Jack Wilshere’s best performance for Arsenal came against the best team he’s ever faced. His display against Barcelona in 2010/11, the peak of Pep Guardiola’s era at the club, was confirmation that Wilshere had the talent to compete with the best.

This weekend, Arsenal require that big-game mentality. Following the embarrassing 6-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge last season, Arsenal are desperate to demonstrate they’re not entirely fragile against strong sides, especially away from home. The situation in the table, meanwhile, suggests Arsenal need to avoid defeat. A Chelsea victory would leave Arsenal nine points behind after just seven matches of the league campaign, and might consign the Gunners to another season chasing a Champions League place, rather than chasing the league title.

This game is perfectly set for Wilshere, considering all the attention will be on Cesc Fabregas, in his first performance against Arsenal. While Arsene Wenger’s decision not to re-sign the Spaniard made perfect sense considering the attacking midfield talents at his disposal, Arsenal fans nevertheless have strong emotional connections to Fabregas. Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey were seen as the next generation when Fabregas departed, and with the Welshman out injured this weekend, it’s up to Wilshere to dominate the centre of midfield.

Wilshere might be one of those players who perform better against top opposition – a Park Ji-Sung character. The midfielder’s performance in the recent 2-2 draw with Manchester City was superb, with his excellent finish rounding off Arsenal’s best team goal of the season so far. He also played well in the 1-1 draw with Tottenham last weekend, and it feels like Wilshere prefers matches where the opposition are seeking to compete in the midfield zone, rather than sitting deep behind the ball. When given time, Wilshere can often take too long, and make the wrong decision – he’s not particularly effective at sliding passes in behind the opposition defence, either, despite his technical quality.

However, in an all-action game, Wilshere is very useful. His speciality is taking the ball on the half-turn under opposition pressure, easing past a challenge and playing a calm pass into attack. It remains to be seen whether this is a useful skill against Chelsea this weekend – although Jose Mourinho’s side should defend relatively deep, in this fixture last season they pressed as soon as Arsenal crossed the halfway line, then counter-attacked quickly. Arsenal didn’t have the ability to beat the press – but that, as Wilshere showed against Barcelona, is precisely what he excels at.

Arsene Wenger has often utilised a 4-3-3 formation so far this campaign, although in recent weeks we’ve more regularly seen the 4-2-3-1 from last season. The 4-3-3 might be used at Stamford Bridge this weekend, and if there’s one player that shape suits, it’s Wilshere. There, he’s given freedom to drive forward from midfield, starting higher up the pitch than in the 4-2-3-1, and not solely responsible for getting back alongside Arsenal’s holding midfielder. His mobility could be crucial against a Chelsea side lacking Ramires, who would have been a sure-fire starter in a game of this magnitude. With Ramsey out, only Wilshere can compete with Fabregas in terms of driving midfield runs.

Arsenal have made a stuttering start to the campaign, but they and Chelsea remain the only two unbeaten sides in the division. Simply preserving that unbeaten run should be considered a good run for Arsenal, as cautious as that might appear. A notional five draws from seven matches is hardly title-winning form, but considering four of those draws would be against Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton, they’d be in a decent position to push on. Wilshere, incidentally, often appears to play best in drawn matches, a peculiar and somewhat undesirable habit.

Wilshere should be the only player in Arsenal’s starting XI who didn’t start against Galatasaray in midweek, so should be fresher than most, having shrugged off a minor knock collected against Tottenham last weekend. It’s time Wilshere showed his best form, and this weekend is the perfect opportunity.

Posted in , Premier League, Zonal Marking | 1 comment

October 3rd, 2014 by Michael Cox

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