Jack Wilshere as a Holding Midfielder? The Debate Rages On


It seems like the “Jack Wilshere as a holding midfielder” debate has been raging since the dawn of time. Whether or not he possesses the discipline and defensive qualities to provide cover in front of the defensive line has been the question, and for the English national team, he’s proven more than capable.

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The young Englishman set up shop in the very position that he’s been debated over when the English national team took on their dearly beloved rivals – the Irish. Jack Wilshere was given the center of the pitch and did exactly what he had been doing for the English National team every other time he had been given the role. He made the most of it and put on a rather impressive display.

While the  match has been called the dullest English game in recent memory by the BBC, most of the excitement was credited to Jack Wilshere, who, while he’s no Francis Coquelin, put together a pretty solid affair in the middle-back of the pitch.

Prior to the match, the Jack Wilshere debate was raging between Ian Wright and Paul Scholes. Here’s what was said (via the Daily Mail):

Ian Wright:

"I think he has (the ability to adapt to a holding role), I think he’s got the ability to do it, it’s just has he got the discipline to do it because of the kind of player he is. I spoke to him last week and he was saying his main problem is he is going to have to curb his desire to want to get forward and want to beat people. We’ve seen him get into trouble trying to do that in the past. I don’t think he’s got the pace to do it anymore but it’s a position he is going to have to get used to because I think it might be the best place for him in the future."

Paul Scholes:

"I think he is better with a disciplined player next to him, I don’t think he is that type of (holding midfield) player. He wants to be getting forward, playing nice one-twos. I think he still has got a bit of pace to beat people and he can play clever balls down the side. He can create goals, he can score goals so I think he is better with someone like a Michael Carrick beside him."

This is a tough one to diagnose. Ian Wright knows Arsenal but Paul Scholes was a holding midfielder, so he knows what it takes to excel in the role. Overall though, I think Scholes has the wiser point. Jack Wilshere can’t be confined to the kind of role Francis Coquelin has. I think he’d be a nice reinforcement for Coquelin, but by himself, that’s just not his gig.

Aaron Ramsey attempted to play that holding midfield role before the emergence of Francis Coquelin and Arsenal’s defense was often left exposed on the counterattack because Ramsey got too far forward and couldn’t get back in time. Wilshere would be the same thing, unless paired with Coquelin.

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Scholes hit the nail on the head when he said that Jack Wilshere likes to get forward, he likes to pass the ball and link up play and as we saw against West Brom, he has a lovely shot when the situation grants.

Ian Wright was right about one thing though, Jack Wilshere does have the ability to play that holding midfield role. But he needs to have that disciplined guy alongside, or even behind him, like Scholes pointed out. To make Jack Wilshere’s game strictly a defensive game is to rob him of his full potential and rob the team of a major offensive threat.

To Wright’s credit, his main line of logic was that, to keep Jack Wilshere back spares him from the injury risk that the tenacious midfielder often runs into when charging through the defense. It is what got him hurt this year and it is what has gotten him hurt multiple times prior to that. But again, you can’t play him in a position just to protect him. He isn’t geared to be a strictly defensive player and Arsene Wenger himself has pointed that out.

Back in November of 2014, Jack Wilshere commented that, “I wouldn’t mind playing it at Arsenal and I’ve already spoken to the manager about it –  he doesn’t see me playing that role just yet” (via the Independent). He went on: “I enjoy my role for Arsenal as well because I can get a bit further forward, but I wouldn’t mind playing the holding role for Arsenal. That’s the manager’s decision.”

Sounds like the perfect solution is to put him in the holding midfield role next to Francis Coquelin and allow him to get forward with the peace of mind of having Francis Coquelin holding it down behind him. That way he gets the best of both worlds, he can play his holding midfield role while still getting forward.

Of course, the problem there is that Aaron Ramsey wants that exact same role and he has more of the credentials to own it, as he has more experience at the role. The other problem is Santi Cazorla in the role, but he figures to be out of the equation in a year or two.

Ramsey and Wilshere would both excel at the role. That’s why it feels kind of troublesome that they both want the role so badly. Aaron Ramsey has been very open about how much he wants to be playing in a midfield role as opposed to the right wing role that Wenger has him at now and with Barcelona barking up his tree, it’s pretty crucial to appease him lest he starts to want away. I don’t see that as happening any time soon, but best not to risk it.

On the other hand, Jack Wilshere was touted as the future of English football for a reason. He could very easily take that role and never give it up, which would be good for the squad, but bad for Aaron Ramsey.

There is no easy solution to this, but I don’t really want to call it a problem because it isn’t. We have a surplus of great players all vying for a position. That leads to some really good form and some serious internal competition. In the end, we’ll always end up with a world-class midfielder in the spot, so at the very least, Arsenal wins in whatever scenario.

The best long term solution would probably be to let Ramsey have the role and move Jack Wilshere, who has more pace, despite what Ian Wright thinks, out wide. He’s looked really impressive out wide too and he’d still have the creative license to drift  to the middle.

At the end of the day, that internal competition would still be there and if Jack Wilshere rises up to take the position, more power to him.

Next: Top 5 transfer rumors to forget about

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