It is early days in the 2019/20 English Premier League season but already the league table is starting to take a familiar shape.
Arsène Wenger made some interesting comments after Arsenal’s dour 0-0 draw with Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League.
Speaking about Jack Wilshere, Wenger hinted that the midfielder may suit a more advanced role in the Gunners’ current tactical setup.
“He’s a little bit in conflict in this position with Özil and Sanchez,” he said. “I believe he can as well play in midfield in a 4-2-3-1; he can play midfield in a 4-3-3. In the system we play, I see him a bit more advanced.”
While it is encouraging that the manager is so vocal on Wilshere having a long-term future at the club, it also raises some interesting tactical dilemmas that Wenger will have to address in future.
The 3-4-3 formation Arsenal have employed since a fortuitous 2-1 win at Middlesbrough has delivered Arsenal an FA Cup win over Chelsea as well as a Community Shield win over the same side.
However, it seems that the formation is more of a stop-gap solution by Wenger employed to address defensive deficiencies in midfield by playing an extra defender as well as hiding the declining physical powers of Arsenal’s central defenders, with Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal and Per Mertesaker all the wrong side of 31.
Wenger has hinted he is preparing to move back to a four-man defence at some stage, playing the traditional tactical set up that has been the norm at Arsenal since early 2009.
This paves the way for Wilshere to re-enter the starting XI in the long term.
With Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez looking more and more likely to depart, it would be difficult for Arsenal to replace both of them with new signings in a single summer given the club’s strict – and controversial – policy of a low-risk transfer approach.
The club would be unlikely to make two high-profile attacking signings in a single summer, and Wenger will likely be forced to look internally for solutions to this problem Arsenal will face.
The Frenchman’s comments make it increasingly clear that he’s already preparing for such a scenario and views Wilshere as a solution in the advanced playmaker role that is so vital to Arsenal’s fluidity in attack.
The 25-year-old Englishman has been used as one of the attacking three in a 3-4-3 when he’s started this season, but dropping him deeper into midfield could better utilise his ability to dribble at defenders while his deeper starting position could provide more defensive structure in midfield.
This role, sitting beside Aaron Ramsey and rotating forward, means that Wilshere’s relative lack of goals for an attacking player would be less of a concern and may also get the best out of Granit Xhaka, whose lack of pace would be less exposed at the base of a 4-3-3.
Whatever Wenger’s thinking, it is encouraging to see Jack Wilshere being brought back into the fold. The Englishman has the talent to be the long-term solution in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield. The question is, will Wenger trust him to stay fit?