Arsenal need Jack back?

Posted by Alistair Tweedale, WhoScored.com

Jack Wilshere is back on Twitter. He might as well be with the extra time he has on his hands after his latest injury layoff. Not only that, but Arsenal have won two tough fixtures without conceding since Wilshere suffered the ankle injury that also meant he was missing for England in San Marino and Montenegro, so whilst England were left cursing their luck that Jack was at home resting, could it be that Arsenal might make do without him? WhoScored.com investigate the statistics behind the matter.

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When Arsenal lost the North London derby to Tottenham at the beginning of March, the gap between the rivals opened up to seven points, with many people writing the Gunners off in the race for Champions League qualification. Jack Wilshere was then ruled out of the trip to the Allianz Arena through injury and Arsenal's season looked set to come to an early end.

Then, against all the odds, Arsenal won and very nearly did the unthinkable in progressing past the German giants who had a 3-1 lead from the first leg. Laurent Koscielny, who replaced Thomas Vermaelen, put in an assured performance at the back, and was given more credit than Aaron Ramsey who played alongside Mikel Arteta in Wilshere's absence, when the whole team deserved equal praise for the result. Bayern failed to score for the first time all season and Arsenal had achieved one of the most honourable exits from the Champions League in recent memory.

Up next, a tricky trip to Swansea, where Arsenal had already thrown away a lead to draw in an FA Cup clash earlier this season. They had also lost 2-0 at home to the Swans in the reverse Premier League fixture earlier on in the campaign. With Wilshere ruled out again, About Diaby stepped in, and while the Gunners were still on a high from the win at Bayern, few predicted a 2-0 victory. With the game goalless after 70 minutes, Arsene Wenger introduced that man Aaron Ramsey in Diaby's place - as well as Gervinho - and Arsenal went on to score twice, as can be seen in WhoScored's match centre, and closed the gap behind Tottenham to four points, also still holding a game in hand. Ramsey is often the object of criticism from dissatisfied Arsenal fans, but he might just come good at the most important time.

The Welshman could be part of the reason that Arsenal managed consecutive clean sheets in those games. Ramsey records a tackle every 28.6 minutes and an interception every 49.5 minutes in the Premier League this season, both markedly more often than Wilshere, who makes a tackle every 53.8 minutes and an interception every 68.5. What is more, Ramsey also keeps the ball more efficiently than Wilshere, with a pass success rate of 89.2% to the Englishman's 86.6%.

So could it be that Arsenal have little to worry about for the run-in, even if they are missing Wilshere for a large chunk of it? Wenger has stated that he doesn't know how long his side will have to make do without the England midfielder, but going on recent results - as well as Spurs' potential imminent implosion - things are looking rather more jolly for the Gunners.

However, little can realistically be drawn from such a small sample size. England's deficiencies were plain to see when Wilshere was missing, and Arsenal's might shine through before long. Over the 18 Premier League games that Wilshere has started this season, the Gunners have won 10 games - a win rate of 55.6% - whilst of the 11 he has missed, they have only won four - a 36.4% win rate. That means Arsenal have gained an average of 1.83 points per game with Wilshere starting this season, compared to 1.54 without him.

Furthermore, the win last week over Swansea, whilst undoubtedly important, was over the winners of the League Cup, who each year notoriously suffer a blip in league form after the highs of lifting a trophy. They should also beat lowly Reading this weekend at the Emirates, against whom they have already scored 12 goals in two fixtures this season, but that might just further paper over the cracks that Wilshere's absence leaves.

Arsenal's fixture list then starts to look more tricky, with upcoming games against the likes of West Brom, Everton and Manchester United. The Gunners have proven with the incredible win at Bayern Munich that they can perform without Wilshere and that he isn't as key to them as say, Gareth Bale is to Spurs. However, whether they can continue to win without their midfield maestro is another matter altogether, and Arsenal fans will be hoping for Wilshere's return to come sooner rather than later.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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