Rob Holding and Calum Chambers began Wednesday night's Premier League fixture against Chelsea as centre-backs on either side of Shkodran Mustafi in Arsenal's back three. However, it appears no one told that duo to stay put, because it was in the 63rd minute that both English defenders found themselves in (in the case of Chambers) and around (in the case of Holding) Chelsea's 18-yard-box.
An attempted through ball by Holding bobbled off the foot of Alvaro Morata and bounced over Chambers' outstretched leg and dangerously close to Thibaut Courtois' goal. Perhaps the prospect of netting his first goal of the season overwhelmed the 22-year-old and he was unable to do much more than watch the ball go and chalk it down as another case of possession lost.
The sight of N'Golo Kanté haring past him in hot pursuit may also have caused his shoulders to drop before that inevitable trudge back across the field to ward off Chelsea's invaders. I say may because we'll never know. Before Chambers had a chance to react — and possibly unbeknownst to him, there came a marauding Jack Wilshere swiftly making his way forward, taking aim, lashing a shot past Courtois and making the net bulge.
But Wilshere's goal that broke the deadlock was only the most visible aspect of his game on Wednesday night. The manner in which the 26-year-old dictated the pace and nature of Arsenal's game from midfield provided a lovely little glimpse of all that potential manager Arsène Wenger saw in him as a youngster.
Certainly, his discipline — the lack of which saw him being shown a yellow card for a rash tackle on former teammate Cesc Fabregas — is in need of redressal, but it was his movement on and off the ball that showcased the sort of player he once was and could turn into once more.
Wilshere is at his most effective when he's freely passing the ball around and finding his teammates. His recent performances demonstrate a rediscovery of that touch and could be the light at the end of a fairly dark tunnel for Arsenal. The lights, it may be recalled, went out when Santi Cazorla limped off the Emirates pitch in a Champions League fixture against Ludogorets in the 2016/17 season. Since then, Arsenal have been bereft of someone to really take control of the midfield and manage the ebb and flow of the game. Someone to set the agenda, if you will. It would take the most stone-hearted of people not to feel for Cazorla, but if we're being realistic, the chances of the pint-sized Spanish magician being able to regain his form of yore are slim... at best.
A common criticism against Wilshere is that he's rendered ineffective by the 'big' teams — that is, those packed with large players, who will simply stub out his advances. This is a problem Cazorla also faced, but he found a way around it with his vision to move the ball around to available teammates and willingness to slow the game down when required. Not every attacking move needs to be executed by bombing up the pitch, as the former Malaga player demonstrated with aplomb.
With teammates Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil likely to be on their way out of North London, the space for someone to be a creative outlet will also open up. And judging by Wilshere's partnership with Olivier Giroud, he could well be just what Alexandre Lacazette needs to start racking up goals.
Next, in an era wherein pundits, critics and former players alike bemoan the lack of leaders in the Arsenal setup, the opportunity is there for the taking to cement himself as the leader Wenger hoped he would become. "I've grown up at this club and I have captained the club at the under-16 level, under-18 level and last season as well I got the armband for 20 minutes or so (against West Ham in January) which was a nice feeling. I want to do that (be a leader) for this club," Wilshere had said in 2013. He's made no bones about his ambition and now, with the retirement of Per Mertesacker around the corner and Laurent Koscielny's best days behind him, it's time for Wilshere to earn that armband (once he signs a new contract, that is).
All said and done, as long as he's on the pitch, he will be making positive contributions. His track record is testament to that. However, staying fit will be the biggest challenge for Wilshere, whose nearly nine-year-old professional career has been ravaged by injuries. When Wilshere arrived on the scene earlier this decade, he was seen as the next big thing for Arsenal and English football. A string of injuries — including one that saw him miss the entire 2011-12 season — put paid to that line of thinking. So much so that his loan to Bournemouth in the 2016-17 season was seen as the final act of his Arsenal career.
As we realised, that wasn't quite the case. Playing a full 90 minutes in six matches over the past 20-odd days shows that he has overcome his most recent injury. The big question though is whether or not he will manage to play full matches for an entire season.
And that is what will determine whether or not this is in fact the second coming of Jack Wilshere.
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Updated Date: Jan 04, 2018 16:18:05 IST