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A piece on Jack Wilshere of West Ham written before the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia

On May 16th, England revealed the names of the players that will be on the plane to Russia for this summer’s World Cup. There were certainties to be picked like Harry Kane and Gary Cahill, young stars like Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek but there were also players who had outside chances of making the squad like Trent Alexander-Arnold. One of those players with an outside chance was Jack Wilshere who 90 seconds into the reveal video found out he wouldn’t be on the plane to Russia.

For me, Wilshere is a player that should be a certainty to be picked in any England side when fit. Something Gareth Southgate tasked him with at the start of this season and something Wilshere proved by racking up 38 appearances this season.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of why I feel Wilshere should be heading to Russia, however, let’s take a look at the midfielders who were selected above him.

Who did get selected?

Dele Alli, Fabian Delph, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

When looking at the way England are likely to set up during the World Cup (in a 3-4-2-1) it’s likely that this group will then get split in half. Those to play in the deeper, more defensive roles and those playing in more advanced attacking roles.

With there being two midfield zones, it’s hard to see which one of those deeper lying midfielders would be able to link the defence and attack effectively. The two players who I’d imagine will be paired at the base of the midfield are Henderson and Dier who seem to operate on very similar conditions. Although both are very solid options, rather than travel up the pitch with the ball, or play through the middle of the pitch, most of the time they will hold their positions and play the ball from deep.

Wilshere’s distribution from deep

If Wilshere was selected, it’d be more than likely that he’d have been used in that deeper role. Many will view Wilshere as a more advanced midfielder due to his attacking nature, however, that deeper role isn’t something new to him. He starred there for England in the run-up to Euro 2016, picking up six Man of the Match awards in seven England games.

After England’s embarrassing exit during that tournament, Wilshere was then sent on loan to Bournemouth for the 16/17 season. At Bournemouth, Wilshere again found himself playing in a somewhat deeper role where he showed that he can still effect games.

Here the ball breaks to Wilshere who has to retreat to get the ball. When looking at Everton’s deep block, most of the team is positioned well. Ashley Williams and Ramiro Funes Mori have good space between them, however, Seamus Coleman has stepped up leaving a gap behind him.
Ashley Williams realises this and tries to close the space between him and Coleman quickly. Wilshere sees this and signals a chipped ball to Josh King.
Having spotted Williams’ movement, Wilshere exploits this with a pinpoint ball into the box. Ashley Williams is now taken out of the game as King runs through the space created and ultimately scores the chance.

Henderson and Dier are both very accomplished passers of the ball. However, what this shows is Wilshere is more than capable when playing long balls up the pitch from a deeper midfield position.

England may be starting with Harry Kane up top at the World Cup, but the fluidity of the frontline will mean that players around him will be running in behind to stretch defences. With Wilshere also being more attack-minded he may be more willing to attempt those types of risky passes, the risks England would need to take to win games.

Wilshere’s dribbling

Another aspect of Wilshere’s game that separates himself from others is his dribbling. Almost the Wilshere trademark, he’s never scared to take the ball under pressure and manoeuvre his way through that. This is something that is especially effective as it draws defenders towards him and creates spaces elsewhere which can be exploited.

Showing he’s comfortable on the ball, Wilshere receives the ball on his chest. After this, most would play an easy pass forward, but Wilshere’s agility, technique and bravery sees him travel with the ball.
He manages to evade Luka Milivojevic but also drags Granit Xhaka and the other Crystal Palace defenders towards the touchline. This creates great space in the central area for Arsenal and he takes advantage by playing the ball into Alexandre Lacazette.
Now with a numerical advantage centrally, Arsenal can play without pressure. Lacazette, Hector Bellerin and Mesut Ozil take advantage of this by playing around Scott Dann who’s been forced to vacate his position and engage Lacazette, therefore leaving a massive gap behind him.

Going into the World Cup, one of the areas England look to want to dominate is the midfield. Teams like Tunisia, who only conceded four goals in qualifying, and others who may take a pragmatic approach can plan to shut that area down. However, Wilshere’s unpredictability is something that can’t planned for. Missing that X factor deep in midfield, England will now have to work that extra bit harder to break down teams who decide to frustrate them.

Wilshere’s link up play

One major advantage of having Wilshere play deeper is that he links the defence, midfield and attack very seamlessly. We’ve established that he travels well with the ball, however, what’s almost more important is his awareness. He’s able to play with his head up while on the move which is a massive boost as he can spot great spaces/free teammates and with that vision he also has the ability to put what’s in his head into action.

As the Bournemouth players apply the squeeze of Xhaka, Wilshere’s attacking nature sees him ghost by them into the free space. Xhaka plays the ball through the gap to him.
With Lewis Cook advancing at pace, Wilshere uses Lacazette for a one-two. Cook is now out of the game and has left a massive gap in front of the Bournemouth defence. To try and solve this, Nathan Aké steps out to meet Wilshere as he receives the return ball.
Wilshere possesses an agility and ability that neither Henderson or Dier have which sees him wriggle past Aké. With Aké now out of position, Wilshere is able to play Bellerin in behind the Bournemouth defence and put him in a great position.

As England plan to play with wing backs at the World Cup, this is something that would’ve been a big advantage. Wilshere’s ability to bypass a congested midfield would easily suck defenders out of position for others to attack. This more direct approach in midfield is something I can see happening higher up the pitch with the likes of Alli and Lingard, but the space they’d have to work their magic will be more limited.


Overall, with the qualities that Wilshere possesses I just can’t understand why he won’t be on the plane to Russia. In that position of a deeper midfielder he brings something that no one else really has in that role, and that something could’ve made a massive difference. Also, for the most part he’s gotten the better of his injury problems. Yes, he may have picked up a knock or two over the course of the season, but he still managed to make 38 appearances and became one of our more important players as the season developed.

However, don’t get me wrong I feel the midfielders who have been selected are very solid options. Even if Wilshere was going I probably wouldn’t see him starting as he could make a great impact when replacing one of those players off the bench, but to leave him, possibly the most talented English midfielder at home could be a big mistake.