Young Wilshere’s progress this season has been nothing short of remarkable. He even managed to shine in Arsenal’s lacklustre Champion’s League loss against Shakhtar Donetsk. He had energy and drive and was always looking for the ball in order to move play forward. It was his ball over the top that sent Theo Walcott through to score the first goal of the game. Yet Wilshere’s influence this season extends much further back. For an 18-year-old to play such a large part at a club as large as Arsenal is extraordinary. You can’t help but feel as though he has an incredible future ahead of him.
There are those who may suggest that Wilshere’s progress is evidence that Wenger’s faith in youth is beginning to pay off. Some might even suggest that Wenger doesn’t have enough faith in his young players, and that it’s time for some of the more experienced players in the Arsenal squad to be replaced by younger players.
Let’s consider young Jay-Emmanuel Thomas. He’s a colossus of a man, he’s calm, impossible to shake of the ball, he’s got an eye for goal and he’s only he’s only 19. For those who have seen him play, it’s clear that he’s got a good future ahead of him. Despite this, whilst Arsenal heaved and huffed against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday evening without avail, Wenger chose to keep the faith in the likes of Bendtner (who is not yet fully match-fit) and Chamakh, instead of rolling the dice and giving substitute Jay-Emmanuel Thomas a fair chance. The youngster deserved a chance to prove himself that was longer than the 9 minutes on the pitch he ended up with.
Wasn’t Wilshere’s good performance evidence enough to Wenger that youth could prevail? I must confess, to criticise Wenger on his dealings with young players seems entirely unnatural. He’s the undisputed king of rearing players from talented youngsters into fully fledged Premiership stars. But given the young talent Wenger has available to him is it time to start taking more risks?
The counter-argument to this is that Arsenal fans are hungry for trophies and any failure due to poor team-selection could see Wenger in the firing line. Furthermore, Arsene granted a chance to young Craig Eastmond, who looked a little out of his depth against Donetsk. It’s a fine balancing act for Wenger who has to manage the expectations of the fans with the responsibilities of developing youth. He’s in the enviable position of having young players who could fulfil a role in the first team should the opportunity come begging. The onus is on them to prove themselves worthy just as Jack Wilshere did.
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