‘Jack’s had a setback.’
There isn’t a sentence that exists which can fill an Arsenal fan’s heart with sorrow than the above one. Anytime it pops up on Twitter or in an interview with Arsene Wenger, the same thoughts go through everyone’s minds:
‘Oh no, not again!’
‘This is getting ridiculous now!’
‘How long will it be before he’s back?’
There are very few things that the Arsenal fan base are unanimous on these days, but one of them is the wish to see a fully fit Jack Wilshere playing to his peak potential. We all have the memories of THAT game against Barcelona, with Wilshere more than holding his own against the very best midfield in the world at the time: Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. We all will never forget his goal against Norwich.
But as much as we love to rekindle memories such as the above mentioned, THAT Barcelona game happened over five years ago. The Norwich goal was scored on the 20th of October, 2013. Since then, his only memorable contributions to Arsenal have been when he’s reappeared after a long-term injury, only to suffer another one shortly after regaining full fitness.
Here’s a question. How many times do you think Jack Wilshere has played for Arsenal in the Premier League? Both as a starter and as a substitute?
The answer is 100. 79 as a starter, 21 as a sub. That might sound like a lot, but if we assume that he’s spent five seasons at the club as a first-team squad member, that works out at just over 50% of the league games that Arsenal played in that time-frame. That’s not a lot. In comparison, Nacho Monreal has been at the club for just over three league seasons in total and has played in 90 league games.
And it’s not like Wilshere is a young whippersnapper who just needs time to develop in order to become a star. He’s 24, he should be about to enter the prime of his career, yet he’s in the middle of yet another injury rehabilitation and these things take time. Look how long it took Aaron Ramsey to regain his form after his lengthy lay-off with a broken leg, it’s not just the physical injury that needs managing, it’s the mental issues as well.
It’s not outlandish to suggest that if Wilshere is fully healed from all his injuries, then it could take him the whole of next season just to get back to full fitness, never mind the more complicated process of learning to play with new teammates. Even if he miraculously returned to first-team training in the morning, we’re looking at a wait of around a year before we see Wilshere at his peak and that’s assuming he doesn’t get injured again.
Then there’s the issue of where to play Wilshere when he returns. Arsenal play with three centre midfielders; one who defends in front of the back four, one who plays in an advanced role behind the striker and one who acts as a link between the two. Jack isn’t strong enough to play as a purely defensive midfielder, and we have a certain German playmaker that is first choice whenever he plays. So that only leaves one spot open for Wilshere.
But if Aaron Ramsey can’t hold down a spot in centre midfield because of the form of others, what does that say for Wilshere’s hopes of doing the same? We’ve seen just how important Santi Cazorla was to the way we play ever since he got injured, and Mohamed Elneny has done precious little to suggest that he should be dropped in the immediate future. Can we afford to give Wilshere the game time he so desperately needs when there are so many other, in the short-term at least, better options?
That is the dilemma that faces Wenger because, in Wilshere, Arsenal have a home-grown, world-class centre-midfielder, an immensely valuable commodity in today’s football. Yet simultaneously, they don’t, because he’s never available for selection. Schrödinger’s Jack, if you will. Whether Wenger chooses to persevere with giving Wilshere the time he needs to regain his form or not, it is a decision he has to get right, because the consequences of getting it wrong are huge.
If he sells Wilshere to a team that needs an English player to fill their home-grown quota, i.e Manchester City, and Wilshere gets fully fit and fulfils his potential in a shirt other than a red and white one, then it would be too much for even the most ardent of Wenger supporters to defend. If he decides to keep the faith and Wilshere never makes it back to the lofty heights of his early career, then Wenger will be slated for wasting club resources in a position where the club has enough cover.
As of right now, Arsenal can’t afford to wait for Wilshere to get fit, but they also can’t afford for him to succeed anywhere else. Eventually, the time will come when a decision has to be made on whether Jack Wilshere can be afforded the opportunity to succeed at Arsenal, and with every announcement of a ‘setback’, that time becomes closer and closer.
Luckily for Wenger, the fan base is fully behind him, and will support any decision he makes on one of the most popular players of Arsenal’s modern era……………….oh wait, it’s not like that at all, is it?
Rather you than me, Arsene.