When Cesc Fabregas left Arsenal, he said something on his Twitter account about how Arsenal fans shouldn’t be too worried because we had the best English midfielder around in Jack Wilshere.
The former captain wasn’t to know that Jack would miss an entire season, and the start of the next, through injury, and it just makes you wonder what kind of a player he’d be now if he hadn’t suffered that unfortunate problem. Because last night he put in a performance of the very highest level, and when you consider he’s only been back a couple of months, it’s hugely encouraging.
There was a bit of a tweak to the formation with Wilshere lining up in the central attacking midfield position with Walcott and Cazorla either side of him, and he showed, to my mind at least, that this is where his long-term future lies. With Diaby and Coquelin behind him, providing a decent platform against a very good and disciplined Swansea side, Wilshere’s influence grew as the game went on.
In a slightly underwhelming first half he was always looking to drive Arsenal forward, to run with the ball beyond his markers, and in the second he took it to another level. Combing graft and bite with end product and an energy that must have come from the reserves build up during his long absence he, more than anyone, ensured that Arsenal went through to the 4th round of the FA Cup.
Of course it was his late goal that won the tie. Cazorla fizzed a pass into Giroud whose touch was absolutely perfect, laying the ball into the path of Wilshere to smash home on the half-volley. But beyond that he epitomised everything good about the game and put in the kind of performance that should be an example to all his teammates. He spoke afterwards about not wanting the game to go into extra-time, and he clearly meant it.
Swansea couldn’t get near him and when they did it was often last-ditch stuff. Possession football is great but teams need somebody to spark, to provide forward momentum. We’ve spoken before about how Tomas Rosicky, like Fabregas before him, was the kind of player who could find space between the lines and Wilshere did that time and again last night. Running with the ball at his feet he’d ghost past opponents and the best part of it all was that he made it look so simple. There was nothing complicated to it, not much in the way of flicks and tricks, it was all engine and it was just great to watch.
It needed somebody to make the difference and he stepped up. Arsenal, in the second half, were all over a Swansea team that looked a bit jaded compared to their usual effervescent selves, and the players deserve credit for that. Some of the finishing left a bit to be desired, it has to be said. Theo Walcott missed three fantastic chances to score, that’s not being critical, that’s simply a fact, and he needs to apply one of those Consistin® Patches fairly sharpish. Olivier Giroud too could have done better on a couple of occasions but provided the assist for Wilshere and, as I spoke about yesterday, we really need to see him have a run of games up top.
I thought Diaby looked better and sharper than against Man City while Francis Coquelin took his chance well with a tidy, energetic performance and while he’s clearly still got some developing to do, I think he’s got a genuine chance of becoming a more regularly used option in this squad. At one point he won a crunching tackle high up the pitch which allowed Wilshere to storm towards the Swansea goal, and even late on he was sprinting around the pitch looking to make space for others. Encouraging.
Overall it was a game we more than deserved to win. Sure, Bartley hit the bar in the first half, but beyond that the visitors offered little as an attacking threat. Even the introduction of the fabled Arsenal slayer Michu made no difference and we were the ones who created all the chances. A combination of poor finishing, good goalkeeping (by Vorm and Graham), and some stoic defending prevented us scoring before we did, but when we did it nobody could argue it wasn’t merited, that goes for goal and the scorer.
Afterwards, Arsene heaped praise on Jack:
He was outstanding tonight. He is at the complete midfielder, he can play anywhere. He is a guy who can dribble and give a final ball, so the closer he is to goal, the better it is. He has quality and enthusiasm, and love for the game. That is the most important thing to me.
And his team:
We persevered and were rewarded and we had a good performance. It gives you a lot of regrets that we played with 10 men on Sunday when you see our second half and our game tonight. It is important that we continue to develop like that as a team.
Amazingly, it’s our first win in January and very welcome it is too. Clearly there are other issues – it was hard not to look at the second half chances being squandered and not wish for another striking option – but let’s hope that when Arsene talks about working very hard in the transfer market (something he repeated on TV last night), that he, and the club, are doing everything they can to put money where his mouth is.
For now though, it’s worth enjoying the win, and a performance from Jack Wilshere that makes you very glad he’s just a new five year deal with the club.