“Words cannot describe it. I was just running around smiling.”
An entire nation mimicked Jack Wilshere’s Cheshire cat smile as he made his first senior appearance after an incredible 524 days on the sidelines. The young midfielder lifted the spirits of the Arsenal faithful still reeling from back-to-back defeats and although he failed to personally conjure the vital breakthrough, his mere presence was enough to overshadow an otherwise uninspiring performance.
Arsene Wenger has overseen a vast renovation during Wilshere’s 18 month exile, with the player himself highlighting the surreal feeling of playing alongside Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla instead of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. The 20-year-old summed it up perfectly with the phrase “a new team and a new me” but is this an Arsenal side that has improved in his absence?
There’s no denying the individual brilliance of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, a midfield pairing capable of unlocking any defence. The same goes for Robin van Persie, who is providing a devastating weekly reminder of his prolific nature in front of goal. However, as their value continued to inflate during their time at Arsenal, so did their ego and Wenger was forced to sell his prize assets for the sake of the team.
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Herein lies the silver lining for Arsenal, every individual currently at the club is committed to the manager and their quest to obtain silverware. Even Theo Walcott continues to reiterate his desire to play at the Emirates, even if he does only want to do so in one position and for a significant pay rise. The team no longer has a recognisable world-class player, on the surface that’s a negative but there still remains a squad of gifted yet selfless individuals.
It won’t take long for Wilshere and Arteta to form a budding partnership. They are like two peas in a pod, experts in the art of possession football with an eye for goal and surprising tenacity in their tackles. Cazorla on the other hand is an upgrade on Samir Nasri, slightly better in every area of the pitch but won’t go missing in those pressure cooker situations.
However, such is the attacking nature of this formidable trio that they are unlikely to all play together in games where Arsenal will not be expected to dominant. Step forward Abou Diaby, who has emerged in the wake of Alex Song’s departure, brushed aside all previous misconceptions and earmarked himself as a box-to-box midfielder that could one day emulate Yaya Toure.
Diaby’s new status as Mr Dependable will encourage Wilshere to once again roam forward and perhaps help fulfil his potential as Arsenal’s recognised ‘number 10’. Even if the duo struggle for fitness, they can form the perfect rotation policy. Diaby can be ushered in for the physical encounters whereas Wilshere can build his confidence against teams who will allow Arsenal the majority of possession.
In the Gunners defence, both Carl Jenkinson and Per Mertesacker have evolved from troubled rabbits gazing into the opposition’s headlights to two of most reliable defenders in the country. Jenkinson in particular has gone from Sunday League hopeful to potential England international, which should worry everyone considering the unforeseen potential undoubtedly lurking in the club’s academy.
Wilshere may have completed all 33 passes that he attempted in the first half on Saturday but question marks will still remain over whether he can ever reach the same heights. However, fans need only glance at his team-mate Aaron Ramsey for evidence that players can in fact improve and mature after suffering a severe injury. The former Wales captain has struggled under the pressure of Wilshere’s absence and will surely benefit from sharing the spotlight once more.
The return of Arsenal’s prodigal son is a welcome boost for a team that have looked particularly impotent of late. He may not be physically ready to hoist his beloved club back into title contention but with fixtures against Manchester United and the North London derby on the horizon, his homecoming may just help ignite an Arsenal side that continues to bubble under the surface.
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