As the Manchester City players walked out the tunnel and onto the lush green pitch at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, they would’ve been weary of the task ahead of them. They had failed to win away to Arsenal in the league since 1975 and hadn’t scored against them on their home turf in over 8 hours. The absence of Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri was the last thing they needed when facing their so called bogey-team in the league.
To raise the stakes even higher, league leaders Manchester United had just opened up a ten-point lead at the summit following their 2-1 triumph over Liverpool which made the game in North London a must-win for the Citizens. With the influential Abou Diaby returning to Arsenal’s midfield, the hosts seemed to have the upper-hand in the middle of the park and Roberto Mancini no doubt anticipated a difficult 90 minutes ahead as the fixture had rapidly become the proverbial acid test to City’s bid to retain their Premier League title.
As it turned out, an utterly imprudent, almost rugby-like challenge on Edin Dzeko by the last man, Laurent Koscielny in the 9th minute resulted in the Frenchman seeing red and heading down the tunnel for an early shower. From the subsequent penalty-kick, Wojciech Szczesny saved Dzeko’s tame effort with a little help from the upright but the damage was already done.
Koscielny lands his team in hot water
The man advantage presented City with the ability to dictate proceedings and they comfortably went on to enjoy 60% of possession until the final whistle, scoring two goals in the process. Arsenal’s tactical naivety in their response to going a man down was troubling but it wasn’t as worrying as their lack of resilience and fight.
You look down Arsenal’s team sheet and you find yourself squinting to identify the leaders in there. As captain, Thomas Vermaelen has always shown his willingness to fight for the team but he has had a few indifferent performances of late. Despite the technical ability of Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Diaby among others, Jack Wilshere is the only player who can boast the perfect blend of skill and character.
In what was another ‘timid’ display from the Gunners, as Arsene Wenger so aptly described it, the 21 year old was, as ever, a symbol of authority amidst a team riddled with apprehension. He was a constant thorn in City’s side, wriggling away from challenges, spreading the play, scurrying about to win back possession and driving forward when he did.
He seemed to be on a mission to negate City’s man advantage all on his own by working twice as hard as anyone else on the pitch. It’s no wonder that the visitors resorted to hacking him down in a bid to contain him. In fact, he was fouled 7 times over the course of the game, significantly higher than the 2.5 fouls per game average he has suffered this season which incidentally is the second highest in the league – for a central midfielder, that’s saying a lot.
On a one-man mission?
His technical ability could match that of a Spanish International. His willingness to receive possession in tight areas, his quite breath-taking natural ability to dribble, twist and turn his way past opponents and his immaculate passing supports the notion that he is perhaps the only British player who wouldn’t look out of sorts in Barcelona’s intricate midfield.
However, the trademark English doggedness and tenacity is not lost on Arsenal’s number 10 and that’s what qualifies him as a leader. He has that never-say-die attitude, that stubborn belief that no challenge is beyond him and no game is irretrievable. It’s that resilience that singles him out at Arsenal and likens him to the strong characters and former greats like Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira.
|"He has Spanish technique certainly, but he has an English heart"
- Arsene Wenger
In their Capital One Cup defeat to Bradford City, when shoulders drooped among the Arsenal contingent, Wilshere was by far their best player, fighting for every ball and driving his team forward at every opportunity. Despite getting sent off against United at Old Trafford, he was the only one who injected any sort of passion and desire into what was a largely apathetic team performance. Take into consideration the fact that he returned from a 14-month injury lay-off in September and his performances of late seem all the more impressive.
Yes, he gave into his temper at the Theatre of Dreams and left his side with only ten men but at least he wasn't content with standing by and allowing the game to drift away from him as United so comfortably dominated proceedings. In that respect, he resembles another English prodigy in Wayne Rooney who has always been a fierce competitor while his desire to win coupled with his temperament often landed him in hot water as well.
This is a 21 year old kid, who is already recognized as England’s best midfielder and the nation’s hope for the future. The more you watch him play, the more you realize that he is head and shoulders above his Arsenal compatriots. It’s reached a point where Wenger needs to recruit players just so Wilshere can be surrounded by those of his class because at the moment, he does resemble a diamond in the rough.
A class apart?
The standard of the whole team needs to be lifted in order to meet Wilshere’s, not just from a technical perspective but also as far as their attitude is concerned. Even though he’s still to win a trophy in his senior career, he is strangely already in possession of a winning-mentality which is more than can be said about even his more experienced team-mates.
Every time he threads onto a football pitch, you’re guaranteed to see a hundred percent from Arsenal’s midfield prodigy. The club’s fans may be dejected with the lack of transfer activity in the January window so far but their best piece of business was already concluded in December when they managed to commit Wilshere to a new long-term contract.
He stands for everything English football hopes to achieve in the future, a player who can match the technical ability of any foreign professional while also incorporating grit and courage in his game. Despite his age, he is already a role model at Arsenal and a living tribute to their youth academy. With their ongoing struggle to secure a Champions League spot this season, you wonder what Wenger wouldn’t give for eleven Jack Wilsheres.
|ls Wilshere in a league of his own at Arsenal? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.