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article imageJack Wilshere needs to make a statement this year

By Tyrrell Meertins     Aug 1, 2014 in Sports
It was a night that left many believing a new English star was born. Following one of the best individual performances since the turn of the millennium –– orchestrated by Lionel Messi –– 12 months prior, Arsenal received an opportunity at retribut
Cesc Fabregas described Pep Guardiola’s side as ‘the best side in football history' in his post-match comments, and very few could argue with the Spaniard, as they were at the peak of their powers. Still, in a monumental European tie consisting of world-class players in Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Fabregas, and Sergio Busquets, no one expected 19-year-old Jack Wilshere to be the star performer.
On a frigid February night at the Emirates, Wilshere served as a reliable passer, achieving a 91% pass completion rate, and he was the catalyst to Arsenal’s best moves. Wilshere was fearless, constantly evading Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio Busquets to ignite attacks by locating Fabregas between the lines –– afterwards, the duo combined in the buildup to Andrei Arshavin’s winner.
At the tender age of 19, many classified Wilshere as the saviour for both Arsenal and England, as he proved that he could compete against elite footballers on the biggest stage. A year after England’s dismal outing in South Africa, attention shifted towards Wilshere to be the main man in Poland and Ukraine, and two years later in Brazil.
However, three years following that majestic display, Wilshere has very little to brag about at the international level as he was ruled out of Euro 2012 due to injury, and played a bit part role at the World Cup. The midfielder didn’t feature in England’s seismic showdowns against Italy and Uruguay, and produced a feeble display against Costa Rica as Roy Hodgson’s men failed to progress past the group stages. Equally, Wilshere hasn’t flourished at the club level, where his role as a key cog at the Emirates is swiftly dwindling away.
Wilshere’s inertia has developed into a major talking point in England with former Arsenal boss George Graham sharing his view on the 22-year-old subsequent to the media publicizing the midfielder smoking a cigarette.
"Arsene Wenger has to have a word with Jack and tell him the responsibility he has now got. They were talking about him being a future Arsenal captain and a captain shouldn't be acting like that,” Graham said.
"His career has not gone anywhere in the last 18 months. The papers now want any sort of publicity of players misbehaving and he has got to get his act together.”
Graham’s thoughts on Wilshere’s development is the general consensus surrounding a player that was tipped to dominate English football, but it’s fair to highlight that recurring injuries have impeded Wilshere’s growth.
Injuries have developed into a worrying issue at the Emirates, and ultimately there are two roads Wilshere can follow. Abou Diaby had the potential to be one of the top midfielders in the world, but his inability to remain fit has prevented the Frenchman from reaching that status. Wilshere hasn’t started more than 20 Premier League games in the last three years –– including a 2011/2012 season-long absence –– and there’s fear that the England international is equally injury prone.
On the other hand, Robin van Persie overcame his fitness issues in his final two years at the Emirates, further cementing his status as a world-class striker. Likewise, Aaron Ramsey also experienced difficulties with injuries, but over the past year has developed into an excellent all-rounder, and was the best midfielder in the Premier League prior to several injury setbacks.
The 22-year-old’s inconsistency, however, has been often overlooked based on his age and the lack of quality within the Arsenal squad, but with Arsene Wenger most recently investing in world-class talents Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Wilshere’s role in the squad is uncertain.
Last season, Wilshere enjoyed a decent spell in an attacking trio behind the striker –– due to the injuries of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain –– but only an emergency will see the 22-year-old return into that role. It only seems logical for Wenger to field a runner to maximize Mesut Ozil’s strengths, along with the dynamism of Tomas Rosicky or Santi Cazorla’s creativity and guile on the opposite flank for balance. With an abundance of attacking options at Wenger’s disposal, Wilshere will likely operate in the deeper roles in midfield.
“Jack Wilshere is a fantastic talent. He is a player we were pinning our hopes on, but he has got to take his game on now from where he was two years ago,” said QPR manager Harry Redknapp.
“He hasn’t really moved on to the level where we thought he would now be the main man for Arsenal and England. He has got to hopefully stay fit this year. He has got to have a big year and start fulfilling that fantastic potential he showed as a young player.”
Wilshere, though, is a peculiar midfielder.
His display against Barcelona still remains arguably his best performance of his career, as the 22-year-old has failed to consistently combine his composure to bypass pressure and ignite attacks on the counter, with is proficient passing. The 22-year-old is not a deep-lying play-maker, nor a legitimate defensive midfielder, but his threat in transition is superb.
While he’s not good enough to feature as the side’s first choice no.10, his lack of discipline prevents him from playing the defensive role –– this is the area that Arsenal desperately needs to bolster if they intend on challenging for top honours, with Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta proving to be limited holders last season –– in a midfield two. And while the Wilshere and Ramsey combination is promising on paper, the Gunners severely lack adequate protection of the back four, thus limiting the latter’s overall impact.
"I don't like to talk about to it too much, but this is a big season for me. I came back early to pre-season [training] to show people my commitment. I am fully committed to the club and to my job and I want to show everyone that,” Wilshere offered.
"Over the past few seasons I've had a few injuries, I know I've got going, had to stop and get going again. This year I'm looking to have a really great pre-season and get a really good base of fitness and take that into the season."
Additionally, Steven Gerrard’s sudden retirement from international football leaves a massive hole in midfield for Wilshere to command for the next decade. Yet, at the moment, the 22-year-old –– like those (Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley) vying for a place in midfield –– has failed to consistently perform at the club level.
Perhaps the Wilshere hype was excessive; his potential, however, is evident, and it’s time for the 22-year-old to evolve. While the dynamic slaloms from midfield are eye-catching, Wilshere’s game requires additional substance.
Wilshere’s age provides the English midfielder with minimal time to improve, as he approaches a significant period in his career. Considering Arsenal’s transfer activity over the past 12 months, another mediocre season could see Wilshere become a highly rated squad player at the Emirates.
Nonetheless, Arsenal’s improved title aspiration creates an arduous battle for Wilshere.
He can either modify his playing style, or risk vanishing into obscurity as another underachieving English talent.
More about Jack wilshere, Arsenal, Epl, Premier League, wenger
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