Jack Wilshere overwhelmed as Dortmund humble Arsenal

Wenger’s first-choice team undone by understrength but superb German side

Jack Wilshere has had a big 10 days. Last week he played as a holding midfielder for England, but his selection in that position drew some complaints in the English press: why would Roy Hodgson encase such a natural talent in the tactical straitjacket of a defensive midfield position?

Wilshere gave Hodgson's critics some extra ammunition on Saturday, with a superb, strutting goal and a clever assist in Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Manchester City. There was also a risky swing of the arm into the face of Frank Lampard and a penalty-box hand ball, but these are the kinds of things the man of the match gets away with. Here was the evidence that Arsenal's angry young man ought to be right up there at the heart of the attack.

Last night at Westfalenstadion, Wilshere had a brutal reminder of how far he still has to go, as Arsenal were flattened by a supposedly understrength but actually superb Borussia Dortmund.

Notwithstanding the inclusion of Hector Bellerin (19) at right-back, most of the Arsenal players were first choice. Dortmund were missing more than half a team, including nearly all of their biggest stars: Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, Lukasz Piszczek, Jakob Blaszczykowski, Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa.


The only Dortmund headliner who was fit to play was Wilshere’s opposite number, Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Mkhitaryan, who scored for Armenia against Ireland in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, was a target for Liverpool last summer but instead Dortmund got him from Shakhtar Donetsk for €28 million.

That's considerably less than Liverpool paid Southampton this summer for Adam Lallana – another example of the English market's tendency to overrate English talent.

If Lallana is worth £26 million, Mkhitaryan, who has already won seven league titles in Armenia and Ukraine, is worth twice that, at least on the evidence of last night’s master class in number 10 play. Wilshere could do nothing to stop him but at least he was close enough to get a good view.

Two differences

There are two differences between Mkhitaryan and Wilshere which make you sceptical that the Arsenal number 10 can ever reach the level of his Dortmund counterpart.

The first is that Mkhitaryan is completely two-footed, while Wilshere strongly prefers his left. The second has to do with build. Mkhitaryan is thin, wiry and athletic, whereas Wilshere is stocky and barrel-chested, with a bow-legged, slightly waddling gait. Put bluntly: Mkhitaryan can run, Wilshere can’t.

This changes everything for a number 10, who is trying to disrupt and create problems from behind the front line. Mkhitaryan can pick out team- mates with perceptive passes, but his dribbling threat means defenders are wary to step towards him and his pace off the mark enables him to act as a decoy for his team-mates.

Wilshere is a fine quick passer, at least off his left foot, but he does not threaten in behind, preferring to loiter outside the box. There is no question which type of number 10 defenders would rather be facing.

As Mkhitaryan helped his side into a 2-0 lead, Wilshere, who had started alongside Aaron Ramsey and pushed forward ahead of Arteta in a 4-1-4-1 formation, could not influence the game at all.

Arsene Wenger made changes on the 60-minute mark, sending on Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain for Ramsey and Özil, both of whom had been dreadful.

Wilshere was left on the field, Wenger hoping he would prompt some kind of recovery from a deeper position in midfield. Instead, he tried to do too much, too soon.

He punted a long pass out of play ahead of Bellini, then tried an elaborate dummy that let the ball run directly to an opponent. Dortmund counter-attacked. This was not what Wenger had hoped to see.

Missed chances

Mkhitaryan should have scored twice in the second half, but missed his first chance and had the second taken off his toe by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s brilliant tackle. The Armenian is by no means perfect – he was booked after a few minutes for a dive – but his display showed how far the darlings of English football’s hype machine have to go before they can be considered top players.

In fact, his display – and that of Dortmund’s reserve side in general – was so good as to suggest that Wilshere might be better off rethinking the kind of player he wants to be. Wenger meanwhile said after the game that Wilshere had turned his ankle but he did not say how long he would be out for.

Hodgson’s idea last week in Basel was not a bad one. Wilshere does not have the pace to be a number 10 at this level of football: maybe he could have been one in the 1980s, but not any more.

He does have the physical and technical equipment to be a deeper-lying playmaker – the kind of player who stitches the play together from the base of midfield – but he still lacks the tactical intelligence.

Acquiring it has to be Wilshere’s next step.

Ken Early

Ken Early

Ken Early is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in soccer