Pitchside

Can Jack Wilshere shine as a defensive midfielder?

Pitchside

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Arsenal have spent the majority of the summer targeting a player able to play in the midfield anchor role, with the likes Morgan Schneiderlin, Lars Bender and Real Madrid star Sami Khedira all linked with a switch to Arsenal. The squad lacks an expert player in that role, explaining Arsenal's difficulties in midfield battles at times last season.

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The above image is taken from four minutes into Arsenal's 6-0 loss to Chelsea last season, and was the result of an Arsenal move breaking down only metres into Chelsea's half. While there was a modicum of protection for the defence at the time, both deeper midfielders stepped out, giving Chelsea a two on two break, which Samuel Eto'o converted easily for the first goal of the match.

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A mere two minutes later, an Arsenal player losing the ball in midfield (this time Santi Cazorla) gave Chelsea a simple run at goal, down the right hand side, given the lack of additional protection afforded to the defence. Schurrle scored here, never once truly challenged down the right.

Given these issues, it makes sense that Arsenal would want to improve their options in defensive midfield. Last season they were generally reliant upon Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini. The former is not a natural deep-lying midfielder, and the latter performed above himself for the majority of the season.

It seems, however, that Arsene Wenger may have changed his plans, and may instead be looking to convert Arsenal's Jack Wilshere into a fully fledged defensive midfielder.

On the surface, this seems like the sort of plan that might just lead to more issues for the Gunners. Wilshere came into the professional game as a dynamic attacking midfielder, equally adept at playing on the wing as he was through the middle. He may have ended up occupying one of Arsenal's two deeper midfield roles, but he is often the one who ends up breaking forward of the two, as demonstrated by the sublime team goal against Norwich last season.

While Wilshere has developed a reputation as a tough-tackling midfielder, and his combativeness is impressive, how does he match up statistically to some of the specialists that Wenger has been looking to sign instead? This will give us a better insight as to whether Wilshere can adapt to the role as required.

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As the Squawka Comparison Matrix shows, Wilshere's defensive statistics per 90 minutes played do not compare well to those who naturally play in that role, especially Bender and Schneiderlin, who played significantly more football than Khedira last season. They both won far more tackles and made more interceptions per minute. This is key, as one of Wilshere's most important jobs in occupying this role would be to break up opposition moves, something that is clearly important given the away displays against Chelsea and Liverpool last season.

On the other hand, the England international's key pass statistics shows that he can be an effective influence in creating play from deep. This means that he might still be useful in the role when Arsenal are playing against perceived "weaker" sides, as he could play incisive passes to carve open an opposition defence. However, this doesn't make up for the fact that he's not built to do what Arsenal need most.

All in all, Arsenal clearly need a specialist in the role, considering their struggles when facing top sides who can break effectively last season. It is a nice idea that Wilshere could be that player, but it is too much of a risk when other sides are strengthening so significantly at the top of the table, considering his relatively weak stats as required for the role. Wenger would be best served by spending some of a supposedly large budget on a player built for the position.

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