It was four years to the day on Thursday since Jack Wilshere linked up with Olivier Giroud for the quintessential ‘Wengerball’ goal against Norwich.
The delicate, one-touch move was the kind of goal Arsene Wenger has dreamt about for years and one which should have propelled the England midfielder to stardom for both club and country. Wilshere ran the Arsenal midfield when he first broke through into the team and if it wasn’t for a series of reoccurring injuries and an unfortunate leg break, he would have almost certainly been a regular fixture in the centre of midfield for Wenger’s men.
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Wilshere’s second half performance against Red Star Belgrade on Thursday brought back memories of the youngster who dominated in midfield against Xavi and Iniesta in 2011. The 25-year-old played an integral part in Arsenal’s victory amid the hostile surroundings of the Ratjko Mitic Stadium, once again proving that he’s ready to play regularly for Arsenal in the Premier League and not solely figure in the European competition which has been used to give fringe players a first team opportunity.
Despite a difficult first half in which Wilshere was forced to drift wide at times, he took the second half by the scruff of the neck and performed outstandingly to create space for himself, turning past two players to grab a pre-assist for Olivier Giroud’s spectacular overhead kick winner. He drew plaudits from Martin Keown and Jermaine Jenas before the game, with the latter labelling Wilshere as ‘Arsenal’s best midfielder’ alongside silky Spaniard Santi Cazorla.
“It’s the brilliance of Wilshere, punching a hole in midfield, seeing what mere mortals can only dream of,” Keown told BT Sport. “It’s a platform for Wilshere to prove fitness and ability. The saying behind scenes is that Jack is playing better than ever in training.”
Indeed, the Europa League and Carabao Cup represent two platforms on which Wilshere can prove himself to Wenger and the Arsenal supporters. It could have been very different if the manager let him leave in the summer when the likes of Sampdoria and AC Milan came calling, yet the resolution to keep him may be one of the most important decisions of Wenger’s career so far.
Wilshere is best utilised behind a forward player in the No.10 role, where Mesut Ozil currently plays for Arsenal. There is widespread competition for places in attack at Arsenal and the likes of Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck are all fighting to get a starting spot alongside the likes of Ozil and the wantaway Alexis Sanchez. Despite the options, last Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Watford reminded everyone of Arsenal’s vulnerabilities in defence and central midfield.
“As a player, if your attitude is questioned, it’s horrible,” Wilshere said ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League clash with Red Star. “I look around this team and you can’t question our character. People try and put us down, they always have. I don’t think the comments were justified.”
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And that’s one facet of Wilshere’s game you cannot say he doesn’t possess – character. When he has the ball you can guarantee he’ll attempt to take players on. Always looking forwards, forever trying to make something happen – there’s something endearing about Wilshere which makes him a fans favourite wherever he goes. The loan spell at Bournemouth didn’t end up being as fruitful as it could have been, yet it showed that he’s a player who is willing to step out of his comfort zone to get back to his best.
With the 2018 World Cup approaching, Wilshere needs to play regularly at the highest level and his performances of late are increasing his chances of being included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad. For now, it’s time for the Hitchin-born midfielder to maintain his fitness and continue to produce consistent performances for the team that he loves so dearly.