An explanation for Wilshere's game of two halves for Arsenal

It’s a cliché in football but one that applies to Arsenal youngster Jack Wilshere’s performance in the Gunners’ 1-1 draw with West Brom on Sunday.

It was indeed ‘a game of two halves’ for the 21-year-old England midfielder who scored the North Londoners’ equalizer in the second half to earn his team a point from the game that sees Arsene Wenger’s side unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions since their opening day defeat to Aston Villa.

Wilshere hadn’t had the best of weeks, prior to the game on Sunday, after he was caught on camera smoking outside a nightclub in the early hours of Thursday morning, leading his manager to ‘completely disagree’ with his behaviour.

The Gunners’ number 10 hasn’t enjoyed his best form so far this season for club or country and has been criticized in recent weeks for a poor performance in Roy Hodgson’s England team.

However, I have not seen the youngster perform quite as poorly as he did in the first half at the Hawthorns and, conversely, I haven’t seen him score a goal like his second-half equalizer ever before in his Gunners’ career. It really was a game of two halves.

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In the first half, his passing was way below his usual standards – gave possession away needlessly far too often – and his tackling left a lot to be desired. Instead of being positive in his play, he unnecessarily got himself involves in scuffles and scraps that lead to the concession of free-kicks and the possession that goes with them.

At 1-0 down on halt-time, I was expecting Wilshere to be substituted off with Tomas Rosicky who was warmed up and stripped off just after half time but, in what turned out to be an inspired decision by Wenger, the boss brought on the Czech Republic maestro for Aaron Ramsey – Arsenal’s top scorer at present.

I must admit, the decision, at the time, left me scratching my head and wondering what Wenger had been smoking at half-time but, the old adage ‘Wenger knows’ was proven once again when Wilshere scored the visitors’ equalizer on 63 minutes to earn the Gunners’ a point from a tough away game with an in-form West Brom who beat champions Manchester United at Old Trafford the previous weekend.

In the first half, Wilshere’s pass completion rate was 78.5 per cent compared to the second half, which saw a rise to 87 per cent. In the first half he was unsuccessful in three out of three attempted tackles, earning himself a booking to go with a poor performance but in the second half, he kept him head down, minded his behaviour, toned it down and, crucially, scored the goal to split the points and keep the unbeaten run going.

The most obvious reason for this miss-match and inconsistency is his smoking debacle last week which clearly had him trying to prove a point in the early stages of the game – he was overzealous and trying to do it all himself which, for his team, was detrimental to the overall performance. He was trying ‘Hollywood’ passes that lost the team possession, going in too strong on tackles, complaining to the referee to no avail and generally making a nuisance of himself.

In contrast to the lack of maturity he showed in the first half, he was cool, clam and collected in the second, very aware of his booking and the need for composure, more useful to his teammates and aware of his passing, kept it simple, kept possession and scored his first goal in the Premier League since November 2011.

The other notable reason was that he was (and has been) played out of position by Wenger, by necessity, due to injuries to Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at present and Theo Walcott’s injury reduces the boss’ options on the right flank. Wilshere is a central midfielder, not a winger and this will have also affected his effectiveness in the game, especially early on when he was trying to negotiate the demands of his unnatural position.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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