Jack Wilshere’s performance against BATE Borisov in the Europa League a few weeks back was reminiscent of the fluid 18-year-old prodigy who shone in Arsenal’s 2010-11 campaign. Back then, Jack had just returned from a loan spell at Bolton – putting in a stand-out shift in their successful relegation battle. He was young, fresh and exciting. Arsenal fans saw him as their golden boy; the English version of their beloved Cesc Fabregas. He filled the Emirates with an air of promise. His inspiring performance in the 2-1 victory against Barcelona left the football world in awe. In awe of the boy from Hertfordshire who had just given Barcelona’s star-studded midfield a masterclass in creative genius. He was a regenerated breed. English – with South American flair, x-ray vision and a touch so deft that he could bring an egg down from the air without it cracking.
Seven years later, Jack has just returned from a loan spell from Bournemouth and is yet to make a Premier League appearance this season. His career has been plagued by a string of injuries that have seen him miss hefty chunks of several campaigns. His most recent of which was a hairline crack in his calf bone which he suffered in April playing for Bournemouth; the very same injury that kept him out for nine months, two seasons ago. Nevertheless, he is back. He has completed two lots of ninety minutes against Doncaster and Borisov. And he looks good.
If his performance against Borisov didn’t demonstrate that he is more than ready for his 147th Premier League appearance for Arsenal, then I don’t know what will. Wenger deployed him in a more advanced role to where we’ve usually seen him play. He was effectively the Ozil rather than the Xhaka. It was as if he had never been away. He pulled strings like a puppeteer. He did so with a fresh-legged glide that would’ve disguised the fact that seven years that had passed, had the hair remained on his head. Not that he is bald of age now, but of choice and maturity.
Many Arsenal fans were hopeful in anticipation of his name being in the starting XI for Saturday’s clash with Watford. And many were up in arms when he wasn’t. I was one of those people. Jack did eventually strip off to come on as Arsenal’s last sub, only for Koscielny to pick up a knock and need replacing by Rob Holding. This was almost a taunting and ironic metaphor for his whole career. Wenger insists that he is ‘not scared’ to play him and that Jack is nearly back to his best. He was quoted saying that “If the competition wasn’t so ferocious, he’s ready”. Granted – we need to prevent the consistent development of Jack’s ongoing injury list. However – is there even any concrete evidence that this method of ‘easing’ players in minimizes the chances of them getting injured again? Is it the method and time taken in which players recover from injury that determines their future of knocks and bumps? Or is it down to a mixture of genetics and chance? It is frustrating to see the blatant need for a creative spark in Arsenal’s midfield to rejuvenate the side-to-side conveyor belt of recent times. Thus, it is even more frustrating seeing Mohammed Elneny picked in favour of a fit Jack Wilshere. Do we really need to tip-toe around the situation? If anything, I would argue that apprehension and doubt contribute to attracting the very thing you feared. Stick Jack in the team and let him flourish! Live and let live! Wenger would, of course, correct me and call it calculated caution.
A display of that calibre – regardless of the fact it was in the Europa league – shows incredible resilience to the frustration he must feel at his stop-start career. A frustration that must leave him questioning what to change to fix it. There was a lot of speculation over the summer about whether Jack would stay at Arsenal following his return from Bournemouth (a move that seemed incredibly odd at the time). He was linked with moves to Fenerbache, Crystal Palace and West Ham. Having been loaned out to Bournemouth and no longer an integral part of Arsenal’s team, Jack must’ve questioned whether it might benefit him to move on. Especially with the World Cup being just around the corner. Amid the speculation, Jack came out and said: “Do I see myself staying? Of course. I have always been at Arsenal, I love the club. They have been good to me over the years”. In a sporadic interview at a boxing match seven years ago, Jack promised to stay at Arsenal forever. At one point, he was dubbed to be our long-term captain. The irony is that in the same interview he promised to stay forever, he emphasised his frustration at injury and missing first-team action. Something that has yet to cease.