Paul Scholes wasn’t too far off with his assessment of Jack Wilshere, the assessment that led the Arsenal midfielder to track down the Manchester United great and attempt to clear the air.
Jack Wilshere hasn’t kicked on from his first full season in the red of Arsenal. He hasn’t kicked on or left a mark on the game, the kind that tells us this is a youngster who’s set for a lofty career at club and international level.
How far can we go with the excuse of injuries? Sure, it derails plans and hampers the development of young players. It can mentally scar players for longer than their time on the sidelines. Wilshere has moved on from that period of uncertainty, when no one at Arsenal appeared brave enough to set a marker for the midfielder’s return. But on the pitch, when fit, he still leaves a lot to be desired.
You’d have expected a player of his undoubted talent to assert himself with much more regularity in the Premier League. As it stands, there is no feverish demand for Wilshere to inserted into Arsenal’s starting XI, quite plainly because we don’t know what we’re going to get from him.
Even his inclusion in England’s World Cup squad brought sporadic criticism: has he actually earned a place in the 23-man squad this summer?
Off the pitch, Wilshere speaks with a maturity that no doubt stems from the responsibility afforded to Arsenal players by Arsene Wenger, particularly the younger group who have seen most of their career at the Emirates, but also through the responsibility of being a parent. It’s a far cry from Wilshere’s youthful, disjointed interview in the early stages of his career in the Arsenal first team.
But he must apply himself to becoming a better player on the pitch and understanding for himself where his best position lies. Wenger sees him as No.10, yet Wilshere has played in the centre of midfield alongside either Mathieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta this past season as well as next to Steven Gerrard for England. His tenacity and skill on the ball indicates that perhaps he is best suited to a position deeper in midfield, yet on the evidence of games such as the losses away to Manchester City and Liverpool, you do question whether he has the know-how for that kind of role.
The disappointing truth in Scholes’ critique of Wilshere is that he hasn’t actually developed much from when he was in his teens. Or at least he hasn’t shown much. Think back to that season alongside Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song and then to how much those two players had developed from their teen years to their early twenties. In the case of Fabregas, it’s accurate to say he’s a one-off, a complete freak of footballing brilliance who ran Arsenal’s midfield from the age of 18. But even to compare Wilshere to Song, who had a remarkable turnaround in his career, and you’d struggle to understand why so little has been achieved from a personal point of view.
I have no doubt that Wilshere has the talent to become a modern great for Arsenal, though the comparisons to Liam Brady would be both incongruous and foolish at this point. The smart thing for Wilshere to do is learn from teammate Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman went back to basics, found his comfort zone on the pitch, restored his confidence, and has now become an integral part of this Arsenal team. Their pasts are oddly similar, not just with injuries but in their projection. There were extremely high hopes for both players upon their arrival in the first team.
Wilshere has come away from his conversation with Scholes with a better understanding of his game. It may have only been snippets of advice, but it taking on advice from ex-players of the calibre of Scholes can be invaluable.