Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday October 1 2010
September can often be a tricky month to pick out a Player of the Month. Fixtures start to pile up, useless international breaks fracture the rhythm of early season, new signings are still bedding in and, if you`re an Arsenal fan, half of your team gets injured. Therefore, there are a few candidates for the September player of the month award in 2010. Tomas Rosicky can quietly toast another very productive month (bar his monstrous penalty at Sunderland); he is playing with a creative flair and an authority that his talent allies with his experience at this level now. When Cesc is out, I would prefer for Rosicky to play the deeper lying midfield role and play Nasri further forward. Nasri, who has also enjoyed a productive September, plays ten yards further forwards than Cesc and I don`t think it always suits the team dynamic to have him in the central midfield role. It is notable that many of his goals come late in games when deep defences begin to tire and leave space. Rosicky has shown an aptitude for dominating a game from the centre circle, rather than the edge of the opponent`s box- where Nasri is deadly. Speaking of the creative elements of the team, Andrey Arshavin has also shone, contributing a plethora of defence carving through passes and collecting three goals- all excellent finishes. But he misses out on the award owing to the fact that he has missed a far few gilt edged chances himself. Marouane Chamakh has found himself thrust into the limelight with the injuries to van Persie and Bendtner and has acquitted himself incredibly quickly. His pass completion rate approaches perfection in every game and his movement creates space for team mates, apparently causes defenders to fudge their pampers and chop him down in penalty areas all over Europe and, you know, he makes it worthwhile for Arsenal to throw in the occasional cross.
But the Player of the Month award this month will go to a player who is beginning to turn potential into talent, who is gradually morphing from boy to man. A player who also makes Szczesny`s hysterical whine about Arsene`s lack of trust in youth sound like the self gratifying navel gazing that it is. When Jack Wilshere started a Premiership game for the first time at Anfield in August, he looked callow and a little lost. Indeed, his dithering on the edge of the box directly cost Arsenal a goal that day. Little over a month later and he`s fast becoming a first choice starter. I do not buy for one second that starting Wilshere against West Brom would have magically eradicated our problems that day; that was a defeat down to the collective. But the fact that this sort of speculation has begun- even if it is a little simple and a little speculative- it does illustrate how Wilshere`s stock has grown. Indeed, he was immediately withdrawn once Chamakh headed us in front against Partizan, which appeared to be an indication from the manager that he is a shoo-in to start at Stamford Bridge. This despite the fact that Aaron Ramsey is the only injured midfielder at the club. That is a quite astonishing rise for an 18 year old. Dare I say it, but it reminds me somewhat of Ramsey`s blossoming last winter.
Ramsey`s case is unfortunately instructive too, without looking it up; I`d chance Wilshere has been the most fouled Arsenal player this season- he has certainly been on the end of some hefty knocks. Whilst the Luddite mentality peddled by the likes of Fat Sam and Tony Penis persists in England, I am certain that a player like Wilshere will soon be gasping into an oxygen mask following an honest challenge by a teary eyed meathead who is "not that type of player." This makes Wilshere`s bravery all the more commendable; there is no doubt that a small, nippy player who can flick the ball past the outstretched leg of a defender with a beguiling switch of feet will find his ankle tapped occasionally, but Wilshere still goes back for the next ball, the next challenge and dusts himself off after some fat oaf like Kevin Davies has left his stud marks imprinted into his leg. (Though in fairness, Wilshere looks to have a touch of "Paul Scholes syndrome" in some of his own tackling). But as well as fearlessness, Wilshere has very quickly added a maturity to his game.
It has become a little fashionable to dig at Alex Song for playing as though he is the reincarnate of Zinedine Zidane. I can see the point, but find it difficult to believe his forays forward aren`t a consequence of managerial instruction. Arsenal have cutely adapted their midfield three this season; I think due in no small part to the up close and personal look Arsene got of Barcelona`s midfield in April. I think the idea is that there is no dedicated defensive midfielder and dedicated attacking midfielder. Wenger is trying to give his midfield the same fluidity as his forward line. So whilst Song has, at times, used his nimble feet further up the park, Wilshere has notably sat a lot deeper. The idea here is that, as Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta (insufferable human beings though they are) model so astonishingly with Barcelona, Arsenal`s midfielders rotate constantly and interchange with quick passing. Wilshere made 132 passes in 120 minutes at White Hart Lane, which amounts to having the ball roughly every 52 seconds. Not only does that suggest an insatiable willingness to get involved, but it means that Wilshere was popping up all over the midfield, in his own half and the opposition`s half, and the key here is also that the numbers suggest he was releasing the ball quickly. Cast your mind back to the way Barca`s midfield schooled us in spring, when did you ever see Xavi or Iniesta take more than two touches before the ball was with a team mate? Wilshere`s involvement has helped lubricate Arsenal`s midfield play into a more tika-taka style. It was noticeable that that fluidity was rather missing against West Brom.
That Wilshere has fulfilled a more defensive role on occasion- for instance, when Song was sent off at Sunderland, Wilshere stayed rigidly disciplined in front of his back four, will only aid his development. Wenger is obviously trying to turn Wilshere, Song and Denilson into the complete midfield players. Wilshere`s display at White Hart Lane, in which he was at the hub of everything that was good about Arsenal, was possibly the best individual performance of the season thus far. Though he has yet to score this season, there have been several notable assists when he has played in more advanced positions. The drag back for Chamakh against Braga, the low drilled cross for Lansbury at White Hart Lane and the nimble shift of feet and subsequent back heel for Arshavin in Belgrade, all demonstrate an acute awareness of his team mates.
This all in a month don`t forget, when Wilshere has experienced his first brush with the British (Brutish perhaps?) media following his arrest at the end of August, which caused the quite idiotic Stuart Pearce to have one of his "because I was a screaming psycho as a player I want to try and come across as intelligent and thoughtful as a coach" moments when he accused Wilshere publicly of "taking his eye off the ball." That Wilshere has kept his counsel and produced performances bodes well for his future, because this boy is going to be subjected to the merciless and hyperbolic hype that is currently haunting Wayne Rooney and that crushed Paul Gascoigne. With Fabregas` eventual departure to Barcelona more a case of "when" than "if", it could and is being argued that Arsene is already developing his contingency plan. Once Ramsey comes back, it is difficult not to let your imagination carry you away in to the not too distant future with Ramsey and Wilshere playing keep ball in Arsenal`s midfield. The lad is 18 and will make mistakes yet this season and will have indifferent performances, and we should expect that and be understanding when they happen. But for September, Jack Wilshere, my player of the month, has had his eye very much on the ball.LD.
August Player of the Month: Tomas Rosicky.
Date:Friday October 1 2010
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