Arsenal's signing of Flamini, for all the issues fans have with it, provides us with an extra midfielder ahead of the North London Derby on Sunday. He will almost certainly start the game in the 'Arteta role' given the comments by the boss about how he is in “physically perfect”. Currently, since Ramsey is in the best form of his life, he will occupy the box-to-box role with Cazorla out wide left. This leaves the crucial AM position where Jack will almost certainly play (although Rosicky has perhaps performed better in that role recently).
The main question for me is, what is the best position/role for Jack? Given that he is unquestionably one of the finest young midfielders in Europe, it is crucial for both Arsenal and England that he should realise his full potential. Doubly so given that we are going into a World Cup year and Arsenal have a threadbare squad. So far in his development, Wenger has shifted Jack around on the pitch, something he likes to do with all of his young talent- Ramsey spent some time on the right wing, Bendtner, the left (the less spoken about either, the better). Wenger believes that doing so aids a players’ development and so far Jack has played all three roles in our midfield. He initially started alongside Alex Song, while Song was meant to be the deepest player, his positional sense (or lack thereof) often required Jack to sit deep. For the 2012-13 season, Jack was given the number 10 shirt making clear where Arsene Wenger envisaged Jack playing.
Jack himself also said: “Getting the No 10 shirt again at the Club means so much to me…it has a special place for all attacking or creative players.”
Jack clearly also sees himself as a number 10, having played there throughout his youth career. He has, unsurprisingly, been pushed through the Arsenal youth system, in his first, and only full season with the U-18’s he scored 13 goals in 18 appearances at the age of 15/16. Players making the step up to the senior team often see a drop off in their end product, however, like Cesc did, there clearly is the hope that Jack will soon start to ratchet up the goals and assists. However, for this season, the question is, should he play in that role ahead of Cazorla or Rosicky. Both have been proven to provide more cutting edge in the final third. To my mind, Jack’s best trait is his ability to dribble with the ball and force the issue- when Arsenal are losing, he is usually the one to step up to the plate. At his young age, it’s very admirable. Surprisingly to me, given how well advanced his footballing brain seemed to be when he first broke through, he now seems to be lacking slightly in this sense. Against Aston Villa, Jack played as the deepest midfielder. There were far too many occasions when he tried to advance from deep positions and was dispossessed leaving the back four exposed. Given Jack’s excellent passing ability, it was disappointing for me that he didn’t adapt his game to benefit the team. It is also clearly a role where he is far too shackled - it is neither beneficial to him or the team.
The number 10 role- Jack will almost certainly play here for the majority of his career. Despite what people said after the Barcelona game (his coming of age performance) where he completed 93.5% of his passes overall, and 91% in the final third, he is not “a Spanish playmaker”. He has so far shown little to suggest that he has the vision and passing ability to slice open defences. This is also not something that players add to the game. Cesc Fabregas at the age of 16 and Gedion Zelalem (although he is not ready for first team football) currently, both were far above Wilshere in this respect. That is not to say he won’t become a “top, top player” in the words of Arsene. Jack is a completely different type of AM- he creates space with his runs, drawing in defenders and creating space in behind. He will soon add goals to his game and improve his final pass but passing will never be his trademark. Given that Jack is coming back from injury and the amount he is fouled all over the pitch, but especially in this position, it is a huge risk to play him here. This is also a concern in the box-to-box role where he is required to cover a huge amount of ground. Given the pair of iron lungs Ramsey possesses, playing Jack here consistently over the season is asking for trouble.
I firmly believe that Jack will become one of the finest midfielders in the world. This season however, is more about getting game time without being overplayed with a view to kicking on next season as Ramsey has now. He currently is falling into the same pitfall as all young players by attempting to do far too much. At the risk of being branded a heretic by the Arsenal faithful, Jack should not be a starter for us this season. Obviously, given rotation and how woefully thin our squad is, he will, but he is not currently in our best 11. The balance of the midfield is something that many Arsenal fans have talked about. When Jack is in the double pivot, the trio is unbalanced defensively and we will be caught on the break again and again. It is notable that Jack missed large chunks of the run in last season and as I highlighted in my last article here, our solid defence was a major reason for finishing 4th. Whether this would have been the case had Jack played is debatable. Rosicky and Ramsey even provided a much better balance to the team. He is also not currently not good enough in terms of end product to play further up the pitch. If it were up to me, the midfield on Sunday would be Flamini- Ramsey- Rosicky. For the season ahead, I would like to see Arteta- Ramsey- Cazorla. More than anything however, I hope Jack proves me wrong and consistently produces at the level we all he can.
Follow Vikram on Twitter @VVijaay