Arsenal fans have had to endure a lot in the last decade, with the club finding new ways to test their loyalty every year. With Arsene Wenger ending his 22-year reign at the end of last season, and Unai Emery’s appointment as the head coach, supporters will certainly be looking forward to a season of change.
One of the fallouts of this is the end of Jack Wilshere’s time at the club. The Englishman had joined Arsenal as a nine-year-old and became the club’s youngest player when he made his first team debut against Blackburn Rovers in 2008. But last night, Wilshere confirmed he would be leaving the club at the end of his contract in June.
It seems unlikely that a player of the calibre of Jack Wilshere would ever leave a club like Arsenal, who have a penchant for collecting creative midfielders. Right from the offset, it was clear that Wilshere was a special talent and was quickly deemed to be the apparent heir to Paul Gascoigne and Paul Scholes for England.
Things have not panned that way for the Arsenal midfielder. While his talent is still there to see, the stirring performances everyone expected are few and far between. If one were to recall all the great matches that Wilshere performed in, the only one of real significance that comes to mind is the Champions League game against Barcelona in 2011. Apart from that, a few good showings against a few mediocre teams is all that Wilshere can really show on his resume.
Of course, the most obvious reason that Wilshere has not been able to live up to the hype is because of the number of injuries he suffered while playing for Arsenal. An interesting stat that was doing the rounds before his loan move to Bournemouth a couple of seasons ago was how his appearances for Arsenal and matches he missed through injury were almost equal.
That’s a damning indictment for any player who wants to be one of the first people on the team sheet for any manager. For quite a few seasons, Wenger could not bring on his best midfielder because he was still recovering from one injury or the other. Wilshere never really put together a run of games that would have given him the momentum to show the world what he is capable of on the football pitch.
There is nothing more heart-breaking than a very talented player being unable to realise his potential and reach the heights he is capable of scaling, only because he has a body that readily succumbs to injuries. And Wilshere is certainly capable of great moments, such as the goal he helped set up against Norwich showed.
But over the past two seasons, it seems the player has encountered a different kind of problem. While his fitness seems to have improved, his performances seem to have taken a nosedive.
The player insisted that his fitness problems were behind him and was ready to start games on a more consistent basis. As if to prove the point, Wilshere took the very surprising decision to go on a season-long loan to Bournemouth in the 2016/17 season. The decision was apparently forced on then manager Wenger, even though the Frenchman wanted him to stay and fight for his place.
If he wanted to show his fitness levels, he succeeded in that, appearing in 27 games in all competitions for Bournemouth, although he did end up getting injured again towards the end of the season. But more importantly, his performances weren’t exactly the kind that would have made you sit up and take notice. While he may have more or less been the most talented player at Bournemouth, the performances on the pitch were nothing to write home about. There was no sign of a Scholes or a Gascoigne about to burst out.
Even if that campaign were to be chalked up as one where he was trying to get into the groove of playing regular football, he hasn’t been all that great for Arsenal in the season that just ended either. In the initial stages, Wenger restricted him to just the Europa League campaign, in which he was solid but there was nothing spectacular about it, barring perhaps his role in Olivier Giroud’s wonder goal against Red Star Belgrade.
And that has been perhaps Wilshere’s biggest problem. In matches that he was expected to take the lead and drive the team forward, he seemed more often than not bogged down by the responsibility. It was definitely not the case with a Cesc Fabregas or a Tomas Rosicky, who would try and make things happen or at least increase the tempo of the attacks during a difficult game.
Wilshere, on the other hand, seems more interested in creating moments that will stand out rather than consistent quality performances that can show he can be the midfield lynchpin for any team.
The Englishman was involved in more Premier League games in the second half of the season but most of his performances were punctuated with misplaced passes and lost possession. Wenger continued to use him despite the number of errors he was making, especially after he announced that he was stepping down at the end of the season.
But Wilshere has not been able to grasp the opportunities given to him in the last couple of seasons, and at 26 years, he is entering into the kind of territory where he will no longer be given further time to prove himself and instead would have to start showing on the pitch that he is worth having on the team.
That seems to have been the message from Unai Emery, who apparently made it clear that Wilshere will not be central to his plans. If anything, this needs to be a wake-up call for Wilshere. For far too long, he has depended on the sentimentality of Wenger to help him get opportunities. But when a manager known for his meticulous research and planning tells you that you are not part of his plans for the season, even before a ball has been kicked, it is time to dust off the mediocrity.
Football has far too many players who have not realised their potential and have been long forgotten even before they had a chance to prove their talent. For every Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, there are a dozen other players that have been lost in obscurity. It is now or never for Wilshere to show he does not belong in the latter category.
Updated Date: Jun 20, 2018 20:55:47 IST