Jack Wilshere is the last piece of a puzzle that Arsène Wenger has lost. Wilshere is nice to have, but nobody’s quite worked out what to do with him yet.
It’s a good thing Arsène Wenger is a patient man. In the past 10 years he’s created midfield maestros and dealt with morons. In the decade Arsenal have spent under Emirates Stadium’s shadow, Wenger’s commitment to youth development has been a two-edged sword.
For every Cesc Fabregas to rise through the ranks and validate Wenger’s unwavering faith in project youngsters, a gaggle of Denilson’s and Pedro Botelho’s served as boat anchors to Wenger’s balloon of ambition.
The youth to come good in the current line up include Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Hector Bellerin, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, and Serge Gnabry, with more knocking on Wenger’s door. All have found good amounts of playing time in periods of fitness, and have established themselves as valuable assets to the team. However, it could be argued that none possess the raw talent of Wilshere.
Wilshere’s situation is enigmatic. There’s no doubting his high ceiling or his commitment to this club, but there is a question mark above his head regardless. Where does he play in our current system? Does he play instead of, or in addition to the players making up our starting nucleus?
In every potential position for Wilshere, there seems to be a more suited option. Francis Coquelin has been on form to the extent that he’s undroppable except to be rested. Aaron Ramsey hasn’t reproduced his scoring form from last season, but he’s proven himself valuable in possession, and helping Hector Bellerin defend the right flank.
The person standing tallest in Wilshere’s way is Arsenal’s shortest player, Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard goes against the archetypal grain of deep-lying midfielders, but his size hasn’t stopped him. Cazorla has been instrumental behind Mesut Ozil, distributing the ball from deep and chipping in with the odd defensive effort too.
After returning to full fitness, Wilshere has made all of his appearances as a substitute except for his start on the weekend against Sunderland, where the Gunners fell flat.
Despite the circumstances, Wenger seemed to praise Wilshere through gritted teeth when he spoke to media.
“Jack Wilshere gave a lot, he did alright,” Wenger said. “He had some good movement.”
Expecting much from a player severely lacking match fitness at the tail end of a season where Champions League qualification is guaranteed seems unfair. Yet, that’s exactly what everybody wants from Wilshere, because his capability of excellence is well documented.
It’s this expectation, both at club and national level, that will either make him great, or give him a nervous tick.
What Wilshere needs is time, and lots of it. Wenger himself said it could take years for Wilshere to get back on track.
Fortunately for Wilshere, time is on his side again. Arsenal’s season ends in two games, and there’s no major tournament for England to attend. He has the entire summer to recuperate, train, and be ready for pre-season.
Unfortunately for Wilshere, time has also sent him back to square one. It’s up to him to prove he can still cut it on the world’s biggest stages – his sensational performance against Xavi and Iniesta is no longer relevant.
Arsenal fans should be excited for the new Jack Wilshere, a player who doesn’t know where he fits in yet.