There must be a certain element of schadenfreude for fans of rival teams as they notice that as soon as Arsenal develop a young, brilliant player who doesn’t have intentions of ever leaving the club he ends up with a stress fracture in his ankle that causes him to miss an entire season, and possibly some of the next one.
Initially Jack Wilshere’s return date was March 2012; he started training in February and before the month was out his ankle hurt again. The possibility of playing before the end of the season was mentioned but never really believed by anyone associated with the club.
There are two issues that need to be thought about here. Firstly, is the nature of his injury and secondly, to what extent can Arsenal expect to have to wait for Wilshere to return to the form of 2010/11?
Stress fractures – nasty business. The problem with such injuries is that, depending upon where you get one, they don’t heal as easy as say a break does. Now consider that Wilshere has this in his ankle, where he is constantly putting pressure on it. His style of play is particularly incompatible with the injury too. His quick turning and close dribbling invites tackles, he’s also pretty fond of throwing himself into challenges on a regular basis, meaning his ankle is always exposed.
Clearly this is not the news that Arsenal fans want to hear, but it’s important to have realistic expectations. A similar problem can be identified in Abou Diaby. Admittedly Diaby has a host of injury problems. The combination of which limited him to another season in which he completed little over 90 minutes, but his problems stem from his ankle. Five months into his Arsenal career Diaby suffered a sever fracture in his ankle. Next year will be Diaby’s eighth with the club yet he has started fewer than 125 games for Arsenal, that is a poor return by anyone’s standards.
Now, Wilshere is some way off having the problems that Diaby has. Diaby’s ankle was near enough shattered by a reckless challenge whereas Wilshere’s has never received such immediate damage, but the nature of the initial injury is not so different. The problem with ankle injuries is that, unlike knee problems, there is no such thing as an ‘ankle replacement’. Where Ledley King has been able to run his knees in to the ground safe in the knowledge that when he eventually stops playing he can buy himself a new pair, players with ankle injuries are not so lucky.
Like I said, hopefully this is an issue that will not afflict Wilshere in the way that it has less fortunate players but neither the Arsenal fans or manager should count on Wilshere’s consistent presence next season to take Arsenal forward.
The problem for Wilshere lies in the uncertainty surrounding his return date. In May he underwent minor surgery on his knee, which was supposed to rule him out for around four months. So, at this rate, he could be back in training by September. However, anybody who remembers the disappointment’s of last season’s set backs will understand what it means to be patient with the young midfielder.
Despite not knowing how long he will last when he eventually does return, we can be pretty sure we will see Jack feature at some point this coming season. Initially Wenger said that he’d be happy if Jack was back for pre-season. That may no longer be a possibility but what will be interesting to see is, when he does return, will he be the Jack we remember or will he be hopelessly rusty?
I remember people thinking the same thing about Thomas Vermaelen after he spent the best part of a year out, he returned like he’d never been away. He gave an interview after his first game back in which he remarked that he didn’t understand why people needed time to return to their best and that you don’t forget how to play football.
To imagine Wilshere harbouring similar views might be slightly optimistic but he does appear to possess the same straightforward nature and strength of character that resonates through Vermaelen both on the pitch as well as in his interviews. Wilshere may return rusty but we won’t return timid. Before the 2007/08 season Dean Ashton remarked that he would be the hungriest footballer in the league, I’m sure Wilshere feels the same way.
One final point worth mentioning is that the swathes of abuse Aaron Ramsey suffered last season seemed to be a consequence of the fact that he wasn’t as good as Wilshere. Yes, he was poor at times be he is still so young and he’s hardly going to progress quickly with Arsenal fans booing him at every corner. Moreover, with what we know about Wilshere’s injury we may well be relying on Ramsey quite a lot next season. Those who are so quick to insult him may be forced to reconsider their actions when Wilshere spends a third of next season nursing niggles in his ankle.
Follow Hamish on Twitter @H_Mackay