Football may be a team game, but sometimes a team's performance rests on the shoulders of an individual player. Good times or bad, that player becomes the difference maker that carries his team forward.
At the end of every season there is a debate among fans over which player was most important to the Club's fortunes. Opinions are usually varied and are often split among several deserving candidates. Sometimes a dark horse comes out on top, and sometimes the choice is clear as day. There may still be 10 games remianing in the season, but we asked our panel to consider everything up until now and tell us which player they believe will be recognized as the talisman for this Arsenal team. And for them, there was very little doubt.
Question: Who will finish the 2012/13 season as Arsenal's player of the year?
I don't think there can be much discussion as to who is, to this point, Arsenal's player of the season. That conversation begins and ends with Jack Wilshere. A player who as late as August was being talked about (in hushed tones) about whether he would ever play again, not only returned following a long injury layoff, but came back stronger than ever. He is now fulfilling the promise we saw from him in his first full season in 2010-2011, is being regarded by his peers as a world-class player, and is the single most important player in an Arsenal shirt, week in and week out.
Yes, he returned to action after the season was already underway, having missed the first eight Premier League matches. And yes, he took a few matches to reach match fitness. But just as early-season maestro Santi Cazorla has seemed to flit in and out of effectiveness from match to match, Jack has gone from strength to strength. You want footballing ability? He is the engine that drives the midfield, and has as good an eye (and foot) for a pass as Arsenal have had in a long time. He knows when to drop back and support the defense, he knows when to get forward and create. He can tackle, dribble, shoot... you name it, Jack has it in his toolbox. And when Arsenal's passing game isn't quite up to it (which is alarmingly frequent this season), he is the one player who seems capable of taking the ball from back to front on his own.
When Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona, he said of Wilshere: "Jack will be the next England captain in a few years, that's not even a question. You don't have to be a magician to know that he's got the capacity to dribble, to pass, he will go on to become a top player of the future. There's not even a question about that." While it took a while to prove Cesc prophetic, Jack has done so.
The season has not gone as well as anyone might have hoped: Arsenal are out of the League and FA Cups, all but out of the Champions League, and hanging by a thread in the hunt for Champions League qualification next season. Yet when I think of the aftermath of the prominent defeats in each of those cup competitions, I see Jack Wilshere, exhausted and heartbroken, his face a mirror for the disappointment and anguish that the Arsenal supporters themselves feel. He wants so badly to win things for this club, for his teammates, for the fans, for the manager. He has spent a year out injured, and upon coming back has had every opposing team trying to kick him out of the game, attempting to injure him or foul him badly enough that he'll lash out and attract the ire of the referee -- that is how important is he to our ability to control a game. He has spent a great many minutes on the ground from bad fouls, and each time we all wait with our hearts in our throats. But, defiantly, he simply gets himself up, dusts himself off, and gets on with the match.
When I think of Jack, it's not just driving runs and defense-splitting passes, it's his strength, his commitment to the cause, and his willingness to stand up to every challenge. It's Michael Owen throwing the weakest excuse for a punch I've ever seen at Mikel Arteta, and Jack confronting him immediately. It's Jack squaring up against West Bromwich Albion's giant of a defender, Jonas Olsson. When things aren't going Arsenal's way, Jack is the player who steps up to grab the game by the scruff of the neck (as in the FA Cup replay with Swansea), no one else. So talented and captivating a player is he that it's impossible NOT to wax lyrically about the guy. All due respect to Thomas Vermaelen, but Jack Wilshere is the captain on the pitch for Arsenal Football Club.
A few weeks ago, I was standing outside the pub after a match, I think it was the 2-2 draw with Liverpool. I was asked by a friend who I thought was our Man of the Match. I said, after a moment's hesitation, "Jack Wilshere." To which my friend said, "Come on, it can't be Jack every time."
"It can be," I responded, "if he's the Man of the Match every time."
I just want to add to Brett's answer with some telling stats.
Jack Wilshere is third in the League in dribbles per game with 2.3. That's more dribbles per game than Cazorla, Gareth Bale, Kun Aguero, and Eden Hazard. Jack is also the 4th most fouled player in the Premier League with 2.4 per game.
Jack is also a rare type of attacking midfielder who doesn't cough the ball up very often. He is only dispossessed (which is when the opposition defender wins the ball in a dribbling duel) 1.5 times per game. In contrast, Kun Aguero is dispossessed 3.3 times per game, Luis Suarez 2.8. The more times you try to dribble, the higher your
dispossessed numbers, generally.
Jack also averages less than a turnover a game and has only has 13 turnovers all season. Turnovers are unforced errors, losing control of the ball, etc. Gareth Bale already has 37 turnovers and Luis Suarez has a whopping 64. Jack has 13. THIRTEEN.
Jack also passes at an 87% rate and averages 58 passes a game. And while he doesn't have many assists (yet!) he has created 36 scoring opportunities for his teammates.
I can't tell you how exceptionally rare this combination is in a player. This is a young man who picks the ball up in midfield and simply drives at the opposition defense, forcing them to foul him or let him create a shot for a teammate. He's also the very rarest of players who uses his dribble often but who doesn't turn the ball over despite being almost constantly targeted with tackles and fouls.
Jack Wilshere is not only Arsenal's player of the year, he presents a real challenge as player of the year for the entire League.
As much as I think Arteta and Mertesacker also deserve to be in contention for Arsenal’s player of the season for 2012/2013, I, like Brett, think the undoubted winner will be Jack Wilshere. Ever since he was eased into the team last fall, he rarely looked out of place in an Arsenal side that had again revamped itself after the ins and outs of last summer.
It is really difficult to comprehend how much this Arsenal squad has changed since Jack’s prolonged injury. The last time had he played first team football, he played alongside players like Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Alex Song. He is now surrounded by Arteta, Cazorla and Ramsey in the midfield.
To put even more perspective on this, the squad had nine new first team regulars Wilshere had never played with when he re-joined the side last October. It is amazing that he adapted so quickly to the new Arsenal side and has become a pivotal part of it as well. At times it was like he never left. This is just a further testament to the quality of player he is and can be in the future.
I think many fans already see him as the future captain of Arsenal, often praising the heart and passion he shows on the pitch. It is not very often the academy of a top English club produces a player of Wilshere’s caliber. The last one I can think of is perhaps Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. I can see Wilshere being our Gerrard (with more silverware hopefully). Jack Wilshere is an Arsenal player through and through, and not only that, he is also a player that has been brought through while Arsène Wenger has been in charge of the club. In what seems to be another ‘transition’ year for the club, Wilshere’s return is the one very bright spot and he personifies hope for many if not all Arsenal fans for better days to come.
While I echo Brett'schoice in POTY, I do not say so with such conviction. Jack has emerged as the player of the season and Arsenal's most consistent player. He is one of our two most valuable players in the squad based on what he brings to the match and how much it would hurt the squad were he to be excluded.
Runner-up for player of the year is, without a doubt, Theo Walcott. I cannot count the number of articles I have written and read on the lad; his growth over last season, and the additional growth this year make me want to go back in time a couple of years to tell myself to be patient. Theo has created more chances up front than Podolski or Giroud. He forces defenders to play beyond their abilities, draws fouls (except when we have Anthony Taylor officiating it seems). Unlike many of his counterparts in the league, Theo has been good at winning the ball back. He has become more of a complete player and earned the right to be the runner-up to Super Jacky Wilshere.
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