An uninspiring 0-0 draw against Slovakia finally got us to see Jack for an extended period of time yesterday, but sadly, I don’t think we’ll get to see the real Jack Wilshere throughout this tournament. He looked a little off the pace to me. Dwelling on the ball a little too much, misplacing passes and was unfortunately hooked after about 56 minutes for Rooney, which can’t have done his chances of getting in to the first XI any good at all.
He just doesn’t look fit enough, does he? I mean you can’t really blame him for a poor performance, because he’s had so long out he’s up against nearly every other player who’s had a season of their bodies conditioned to deal with the rigours of top-level football, so he was always going to find it hard going. Having him come on in the Russia game made him look a little more ready than he actually is, because he was up against tired legs, so perhaps that will be his role for this tournament.
But whilst England huffed and puffed in a sight that was very familiar to an Arsenal fan i.e. all possession and a team built not to venture outside their defensive third, the Welsh showed how it’s done, with Rambo integral in two of the goals by scoring the first and assisting the second brilliantly.
Isn’t it interesting how much more influence he’s having on this Welsh team, and so far, how much more success he’s having in terms of his own personal performances? I’ve read some people put it down to him having two defensive-minded midfielders behind him and perhaps that is the case. The only problem he has is that we have an Özil who operates in that spot for Arsenal and I don’t know a single gooner who would think for a second that it’s worth bringing the Welshman in for the German.
Perhaps Ramsey can play alongside a Xhaka or an Elneny, but I think Arsène has his eyes on either Jack or Santi in that role, which I’d certainly endorse above Ramsey. Both players are better in possession and both are certainly better at pass distribution, so whilst neither can match Rambo’s goal threat, if he wants to play centrally I’m just not sure how he fits in. Unless Arsène starts playing him wide right again. That’s where we want goals to come from – our front three – so that’s where Ramsey’s best opportunity of making it in the Arsenal team, probably lies.
As for England themselves, it’s painfully obvious that there just isn’t any craft in the team, with the only player capable of said craft, currently not fully fit and being hauled off for Rooney after an hour. To be fair to Rooney, he hasn’t played that badly, but in my eyes he’s not a deep-lying playmaker. Not as Jack was deployed to some success during the qualification period, anyway. Just because a player can pick a ball up and ping it diagonally towards one of the wide forwards, doesn’t make him an amazingly converted midfielder. The playmaker needs to be the glue that nuts the overall play together. He needs to be able to play those long diagonals, of course, but he also needs to pop up in pockets in both the middle and final third and be able to thread that ‘eye of a needle’ pass that nobody else can see. What we saw yesterday was a striker converted into a midfielder, getting in to positions on the edge of the box and having a pop, or bundling through players until he eventually got stopped by a resolute Slovakian back line. None of this is Rooney’s fault, I hasten to add, it’s just that if you want to be the eventual winners of a tournament like this you need to have that guy who can see that killed pass when you get teams who set up for a draw. And Mark my words, if England came up against another underdog it wouldn’t matter that we’d be in a knockout, they would play for penalties and hope to get through by being strong defensively. It has been done before. Greece 2004 anyone?
So what’s the answer? In an ideal world, it would be to get Jack playing more and back up to fitness, but that could take the whole tournament, so I don’t think that we’ll see him too much during these Euro’s. That would be a real shame indeed. But I understand Roy’s thinking. He’s effectively playing for his contract now, so he’s got to try to maximise his chances of reaching the quarters, so he can make a good case for being given a crack at the World Cup in two years time. He can’t hang around waiting for Wilshere to potentially pick up fitness and turn into a game changer for him.
It’s all set up for an England vs Portugal next round, which will be a whale of a time, given our recent record. That group play tomorrow and if it’s not Portugal then I suspect it will be Hungary, but you just know the fates will probably align to give England Cristiano and co. Let’s see how it plays out tomorrow.
And until then, I’ll take my leave.