It was supposed to be a new low in his career. Having suffered an unfortunate leg break against Tottenham during his loan spell at Bournemouth, Jack Wilshere continued his recovery with an appearance against Manchester City during an Arsenal Under-23 tie in August, only to react furiously to a late tackle and be sent off for shoving City’s Matt Smith in the chest after 63 minutes. A post-match brawl ensued and a flurry of put-downs rained down on the England international for ‘fighting with kids’, with a number of Arsenal fans hastily claiming his days at the club were over.
Now, though, two months on, and Wilshere is showing signs that he may be central figure to Arsene Wenger’s side for the remainder of the 2017-18 campaign.
Wilshere’s display during Arsenal’s 1-0 Europa League victory over Red Star Belgrade was especially pleasing, with the midfielder skipping effortlessly through a crowd of opposing players before playing an impossible one-two with Theo Walcott of which Olivier Giroud was the beneficiary.
The move encapsulated everything that Wenger desires for his team – the strength to hold off a challenge, the initiative to take players on, and the majestic end-product which very few players have the ability to create.
“If you ask me, ‘Is he back to his full, 100 per cent potential?’, I would say no,” Wenger told reporters following the game. “But he’s not far away. The rest now can only be gained by competition. That’s why I believe that these kind of games [Europa League and EFL Cup] are very important for Jack at the moment.
“He is focused, he is working hard and he is absolutely determined to get his place back in the team. There is a big fight there, and that’s what we want. It’s a dream for all of us to see him fulfil his potential.”
The fight which Wenger alludes to is a fitting remedy for the ‘lack of Cojones’ which the Gunners were ridiculed for by Watford striker Troy Deeney this month. There is a ready-made resilience inbuilt in Wilshere which has proved infectious to his team-mates, and his adoration of the club makes it impossible for those around him to shirk their responsibilities whilst he is on the pitch.
Should Wilshere be reinstated into the Arsenal set-up in the Premier League, Wenger is faced with a decision to either alter his current system or dislodge the new-fashioned triumvirate that is Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and summer signing Alexandre Lacazette. Though also adept in a deeper role, Wilshere is best operated in an advanced central role with freedom to roam and pick up positions in pockets between opposition lines.
Despite having played just 13 minutes of top-flight football this season, the 25-year-old register an assist for Aaron Ramsey’s strike having replaced Lacazette in the Gunners’ recent 5-2 win at Everton.
Wilshere’s thirst to make something happen stands him out from his Arsenal colleagues and his aggressive approach in applying his creativity and carrying the ball into threatening areas may prove too much for Wenger not to take a chance on him.d a
And while there is no questioning Wilshere’s ability, or indeed his mentality, long-standing doubts over his fitness remain and his immediate impact for Arsenal this season stands to exist in cup competition.
“I gave Jack his start at 17 years of age,” Wenger said previously. “That means I am convinced — you have to be convinced, to play a boy at 17 years of age, that he is a special player. He is a special player, but we are all the same in that you need health to work — I need health to work and a football player needs to be healthy to play.”
Without reoccurring injuries throughout his career, Wilshere’s status at both club and international level would certainly be more favourable, and the discussions around his future very different. His eagerness to work his way back into the Arsenal reckoning and that he embraced the opportunity to step outside his comfort zone by joining Bournemouth in an effort to do just that has made Wenger’s decision to keep him at the Emirates a substantially easier one.
As the World Cup approaches, too, Wilshere will be hopeful of being involved in Gareth Southgate’s England squad. He has not featured for the Three Lions since the European Championships in 2016 but was an unused substitute against both Scotland and Spain at the back end of last year, with injury hampering his availability. Wilshere is almost guaranteed to be called upon for the trip to Russia, should he be offered regular game time in domestic competitions, though he will have to convince the higher-ups in charge of senior selection.
Wilshere has some way to go until Wenger shapes his team around him, and indeed Southgate at international level, but the England man is moving ever closer to that being a genuine possibility.
Sun Bets football betting odds have Arsenal at 6/4 to finish in the top four. Can Jack Wilshere help the Gunners secure a Champions League spot this season? We will have to wait and see.
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