Does Jack Wilshere still fit in Arsenal 2014/15? The answer may lie in 1997/98 formation

I have no idea who will come in to bolster the current squad but the indications are perhaps 3 and not too many more from Wenger. I think one will be a striker,  Joel Campbell perhaps, possibility a right back, certainly a centre back BUT definitely a strong powerful midfielder.  This article is not a transfer speculation piece however, more a formation speculation piece. I certainly don’t want to be ripping up the squad and dismissing players prematurely when we all have an FA Cup Final to enjoy and it is our current team who have taken us to Wembley taken major scalps en route.

It was the Semi Final though when for the first time in over a year when Wenger altered our shape to 442 that once more got me thinking about whether our existing 4231 is always the best for us in every game. Wigan, if we are honest were holding us comfortably and many inferior sides that have done their homework have been able to the same on occasions. In reality it is not like being back at school and revising for an exam where you have to guess which subjects might arise in the paper. Any coach knows what our team set up will be and we can argue about of fluidity and interchange of positions of our 3 players behind the striker but unless a team is man marking that is not an issue if the objection is to sit and not concede. In essence you don’t need to revise what might be in the test at the Emirates because you already know. Everyone in football knows.

The above criticism or observation was exacerbated further in the early part of 2014 when we lost both of our key runners in Walcott and Ramsey. Our inability to perhaps change our style and formation in their absence perhaps cost us dearly. It also made Giroud a scapegoat which for me at least he did not deserve.  His hold up play and ability to bring the runners into the game are superb. Why he was blamed for the lack of runners and his lack of mobility was beyond me. The other problem or perhaps quandary might be a better word that the injuries raised before his own, is that of Jack Wilshere. Jack has incredible talent but in this system it does not bring what Ramsey does. It strikes me one crucial difference is that Jack enjoys running at players with the ball at feet whilst Ramsey would sooner look for a quick give and go.  Wilshere was simply not getting into the advanced positions and goal threatening situations as often as Ramsey did playing in the advanced pivot.  This presents a dilemma for Arsenal because he is simply not physical enough to occupy the role this season shared between Arteta and Flamini.

So where will the lad labelled  ‘the Saviour of English football,’ only a few seasons back find his place in the Arsenal side week in week out? Because if Jack is not able to force his way into his own team, he won’t be saving his country in the near future will he? So whilst accepting we will need to make full use of the squad are their perhaps alternative ways of setting up the team that might utilise Wilshere’s strengths? If there are might this not also have the additional benefit of making us less predictable?  This is not a case of not rating him or losing faith in him it is more  a case of finding a way of bring the best out of his considerable talents – He has the heart of a lion, is tenacious in the tackle and is at his best running with the ball. However is passing is not as accurate as it should be and his instinct, despite the goal v Norwich is not to drive into the box without the ball.

Firstly let’s look at the current system of 4231 and I have made only one assumption of a certain new addition. I have no idea who it might be but we need the long awaited replacement to Gilberto and in my personal view next season it will not be Arteta or Flamini. We need a more mobile physical presence and whilst it could be a refreshed, re-educated and reinvigorated Abou Diaby I am going to use my own wishful thinking and name that player Morgan Schneiderlin! I fully expect there to be a new striker but for the purposes of this exercise I will stick with Olivier Giroud as Wenger has

Again only my views but in this formation is all are fit and well Jack Wilshere would only be cover for Aaron Ramsey but so equally could Oxlade-Chamberlain be. In this formation in 2014/15 I cannot see a way for Jack to be first choice.

The second alternative deployed by Man City this season when Silva has been out, using Nasri and Navas wide and by United under Ferguson has been a more traditional 442 with box to box wide players.  Again one of the central pairing will sit deeper as Carrick did for years and Fernandinho or Garcia have for City this season. In this formation I would potentially see this as a first choice line up for Arsenal in 2014/15.


Again I would see Wilshere as second choice but perhaps in 2 potential positions. He would once more understudy Ramsey but could equally understudy Cazorla using his running power on the left flank. He could easily whip in left footed crosses and his defensive contribution and fitness levels would surpass Santi’s. For me this 442 or 41311 is the system we operated in 2001-05 and i would sooner see Theo operating at the head of this team than on the right.

The third alternative and the one that would give Jack a key role would see us return to the 1997/98 double winning formation. I have advocated this in the past when I suggested using Ramsey in the Ray Parlour role might work well. What was so perfect about this formation was that it utilised the strengths of both wide players. Overmars the attack minded, flying winger with a superb eye for goal on one side and Parlour the converted central midfielder, with a phenomenal engine willing to work box to box and tuck in to make the third midfielder when Overmars had joined the front two. In essence the lopsided 442 became a 433 with Petit shifting left and Parlour shifting in alongside Vieira.

It would look like this when the team sets up:


But could adapt very swiftly to this when Theo Walcott joins the attack as Overmars did so often when he operated on the left:

In 2014/15 Walcott is Overmars and Wilshere is Parlour, albeit on opposite flanks.  In this formation Jack Wilshere fits perfectly and against other sides playing 442 with lesser players this fluid formation I would see working a treat.

Theo in Overmars role
Theo in Overmars role

I guess it comes down to whether the management continue to select a similar formation for each and every match or whether they begin to adapt the team for the opposition on any given day. The joy of the above possibilities thought is that in the main they use the same players meaning the formations can alter during play or as appropriate to circumstances.

I would enjoy seeing the last system tried. It would be exciting and would get the best from so many of our players, notably Theo and Jack, whilst leaving Ozil and Rambo where they do the most damage.  None of us doubt that Wilshere has a bright future but can we include him and Ramsey easily in our current 4231? Perhaps not but we should bear in mind that he IS the future of Arsenal FC whereas perhaps beyond next season Cazorla is not. Santi has a new deal but his impact this season has been far from the impressive influence shown in 2012/13.  Perhaps it is Santi and Jack who may share the load rather than Ramsey and Jack as most might immediately perceive?

Its only Ray Parlour. Jack it could be you?
Its only Ray Parlour. Jack it could be you?

I am not drawing conclusions,  more opening a debate that could be a lot less obvious if we broaden our mind when it comes to formations and how they can adapt game to game and in game. I hope this article at least starts a few conversations. When we consider that England’s best 2 two teams in recent global tournaments has Barmby on the left and then Joe Cole on the left it must tell us that good players can adapt to playing what ostensibly in not a role they first occupied. One must accept that Ray Parlour was a far more rounded player when he returned to the centre from his time out wide.

The formations certainly make it fairly clear we need a third centre back and urgently too.

Enjoy the debate and roll on Wembley. I doubt Jack will start but he should make the bench and Arsenal must be firm favourites so get your free football betting sorted and let’s hope after 9 years we are all winners on Saturday.

Until next time and I hope it won’t be so long!

Like what you read? Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitter –

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  1. Very good points made here, I agree with that formation that you used in which would suit Jack. Using him as a winger but playing as a centre mid

    1. Thanks. More a left midfield than a winger. We did it in 60s with one working winger and one attacking too

  2. great article, wilshere will find his role.

    I dont know about anyone else but i hope carzola and podolski leave, carzola disappointed this year as did podolski who i dont tink is really a team player. nothing against them two just need hungry players, bring back campbell and a new striker

  3. Firstly, we have to stop playing into the hands of teams, i.e. not get obsessed by playing through the middle, i.e. 2, Wilshere and Ramsey should stick to central positions and not be put on the left and/or right like some of those formations dictate.

    Secondly, you say we need a right back, centre back and powerful midfielder, no striker? Like..really? Giroud cannot give us the goals we need up front by himself, he showed that against Norwich and countless other games. I know you said this is not about transfers but it affects your list of formations.

    I’m all for deploying a 4-4-2, but we need a killer striker and wingers who stick to the wings, going to the byline. Walcott can do that on the right obviously, Oxe can cover for him and Campbell can come in and play across up front or as a winger.

    Bit harsh on Wilshere, I think he has the same effect on the team as Ramsey, driving us forward. Ramsey’s playground-style flicks annoy me from time to time, but obviously he’s full of confidence and getting goals. It must be noted that Wilshere has scored more goals this season than ever before I think, still not many but he’s improving, evolving his game slightly and has done well despite injuries (good performance against Norwich, just a tad short on running back).

    I’m not a fan of having 2 players in the ‘DM’ position even if they’re not operating as 2 ‘dm’s, just shows you that we need 2 players to do 1 job. Also we need more pace in the side. Other players don’t get into the box because Giroud never gets into the box either. If he’s to be top dog, he needs to set the pace, the standard. He needs to be the point at the end of the arrow, but he’s very blunt and quite slow. Yes he is good with his build up play but we used to be known as a team full of pace, we’re severely lacking that now.

    1. Nor am I hence my suggestions. Not sure you read it but I am in favour of 442 variants with one DM

      1. Wishere tends to hold on to the ball unnecessarily without passing it on or he does it lately and at times lose the ball completely. He lacks intelligent passes. He has failed to grow to the kind of player we thought he could be. So in future he must be used as a cover for Ramsey.

    2. Robin, I don’t think goonerdave was advocating 2 DM’s but I think you’ve wound yourself up.

      Firstly, Jack has been pretty average this season. I said two years ago that I don’t think Wilshere is the saviour people think he is. I think he is very much the product of the Arsenal academy but has a long way to go before competing in a title challenging team. Now he could make a leap in the way Ramsey did – but I don’t think his style of play will really allow such a dramatic improvement. I think he must focus on his passing and his all round intelligence on the pitch, taking up kep positions and timing his runs.

      Secondly, I think as a midfielder with aspirations to play in the hole/number 10 role as he clearly does – then he must accept playing wide as well as central in order to learn the intricacies of each position. I do agree with goonerdave that he could play a similar role to Ray Parlour but I feel he would be slightly wasted doing so.

      I would rather see him used sparingly and developed over the next season or two. I firmly believe that our midfield should consist of Ramsey, Ozil, Theo and Cazorla with another in defensive mid (I still believe it will be one of Arteta or Flamini to be honest as Wenger is a big fan of both). But Wilshere and Rosicky should be looking to break into the team to offer something different. It will do Jack absolutely no harm to fight for his position – he should not be guaranteed a starting position because of his potential.

      Finally Robin – to state that jack has the same effect on games as Ramsey is ludicrous. Ramsey has added so much to his game, he is a bundle of energy, times his runs perfectly, is now hitting the net with more frequency and works his socks off. These flicks you speak of tend to open up teams and yes they do not always come off but he is doing them high up the pitch were the benefits are huge and the downsides minimal.

  4. Lovely post. I think it’s such a pity Wiltshire hardly ever seems to be fit these days. We need him to remind us how good he used to be.

  5. Excellent article. Although i would disagree on one point, I think Wilshere would make an excellent defending midfielder, if he works on his shoulder and upper body he could cope with the role.

    he is already hard to shove off the ball, thats why he gets fouled so much, he can tackle and has a great burst of pace. Having a player like ramsey next to him will do wonders as
    1) he wont be in the spotlight as the “saviour of Arsenal”
    2) He wont be tasked with the creative play, which he hasnt been doing recently.

    I think most Arsenal fans thought him the bigger talent of him and ramsey, now that Ramsey has been so influential it’ll give Wilshire time to develop his game and find his best position, out of the spotlight.

    1. Thanks mate. We will have to disagree as the ease at which he is push off ball and then rolls on floor looking for free kicks is one of my main frustrations

  6. I don’t have any worries about Wilshere’s place in the team. He’s going through the same cycle of recovery that Ramsey did and will come good in the same way.

    Arsene clearly adores him as he’s had him training with the first team since he was 14-15 and speaks about him in the same fashion he used to with Cesc. If fit next season he’ll be starting on the right at least until Walcott recovers.

  7. Good post, my view is jack wilshere is a deep lying midfielder who tends to hold onto the ball too long, especially when he’s frustrated and when we’re trying to build attacks. You give a good alternative but I think he can be as effective as ramsey in the formation we play now if he learns to release the ball more quickly when bursting forward, as thus would free him up and provide an extra body in the box. Hopefully a relatively injury free season can improve this side of his game.

  8. Nice article, but I feel santi still has a lot to offer, just being overshadowed by Ozil this year.. jack n rambo of course are the future but we play in 4 competitions and will have enough opportunities for both. As wenger says that ox has a future in the central midfield, do you reckon we might play 2 box to box midfielders in near future?

  9. Wilshere’s injury has really cost him alot during the 2012/2013 season seating out for more than a year dip sour his form we all hope he could find back dat very form which we al know that an inform jack wilshere is not anybodies mate in the current arsenal line up…

  10. A good read, Dave. AGAIN

    The article is definitely a start of never ending conversation than a conclusion. I quite like your last formation and players used, but my deep concern is Cazorla being overlooked completely. Considering all fit, it already has 15 players, that is without counting: a substitute DM (Schneiderlin in this case), a substitue CB/RB and a substitue GK. Which makes it 18, without involving Cazorla. Not to forget it still has not got THAT world class super fast game changing ST. Now I don’t mean to debate who is better among Jack and Santi, but it really is a complex task AW handed himself (perhaps unnecessarily?) to adjust the players we have got in the formation he wanted. Because for me, the types of players we have got are best suited to play a more traditional-well known-simple formation with 2 on the top of 4-4.

    I can continue on this topic all day, but perhaps we shall wait till Sept 1st to assess the squad with new players ( when and IF they are brought in ).

    Knowing arsenal, we never have the problem as sweet as it looks in the paper, because of our super-natural relationship with injuries.
    Though I heard its a good problem to have for the manager.

      1. I know its celebration time and perhaps too early but was disagreeing on your exclusion of Santi for next season. #justsaying
        And kudos to 442, introduction of Sanogo was so effective.

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  15. i think many if not most arsenal fans have become so used to the 4231 formation that changing to 442 seems much more drastic than it might be. i also wonder if we have the players appropriate for the orthodox 442. and please no walott as CF, i thought we’d settled this debate once and for all.

    as for jack and ramsey, as you pointed out nicely, they have diffirent attributes and skill sets. as long as ramsey keeps up his spectacular form and carries it on to next season, i don’t see wilshere starting in the two central midfield positions in the 4231. he could of course, start wide, or rotate/substitute with ramsey and ozil (in the hole behind the striker) in some games.

    one more point is that if we have learned one thing about wenger and formation is that he wants players to adapt to his system rather than the other way round. so it’ll be interesting to see what he does next season.

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