Jack Wilshere leaving Arsenal was something that only looked like happening in a parallel universe. In this dimension, at least, it looked like Wilshere’s future was at Arsenal until a questionable early move to play for LA Galaxy. That seemed to be the career trajectory we had all agreed to and something that Arsenal were determined to see to. Wilshere was meant to be the Arsenal boy through and through, a man they could build a team around for years to come. He was meant to be the man that was moulded by Arsene Wenger into the heartbeat of the side and who carried the baton over to the next long-term manager.
Injuries have prevented any of this from coming to pass. Hardly sustaining fitness for a period long enough to get up to full match fitness, Wilshere’s development was stunted and he was dropping further down the midfield pecking order, almost on a monthly basis. Even Arsenal look to have grown tired of basing their squad development around the phrase ‘when Jack is fit’ – because he isn’t. Ever. He has only played over 30 Premier League games in a season once in his career – in 2010/11. For a 24-year-old player who broke through to the first team as a teenager, that is astounding. His has the appearance numbers of a squad utility player, not a promising star whose team is built around him.
The fact that Arsenal were so very patient in Wilshere’s development bemused many, but this summer it was as though they had finally had enough. Mohamed Elneny arrived last January, Alex Iwobi broke into the eleven and Granit Xhaka was signed in the summer – there was simply not enough room for Wilshere to start games. A crowded midfield did not have the capacity to help an injury-ridden player return to match fitness on the off chance that he could reproduce the form he has only shown very short glimpses of in his career.
Is this a sign of a new, ruthless Arsenal? Or is this simply a Gunners hierarchy finally coming to its senses?
At this point, it really is hard to tell. Arsene Wenger was still not quite as a clinical in the transfer market as opposing managers and clubs. Their displays against Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain in the last few days have not done the Gunners any favours. It has, if anything, reflected a team still crippled by the same November crises that have stifled so many title bids. This squad, however, is far stronger, far deeper than before – and should be able to adapt.
Whether Arsenal have reinvented themselves is still up in the air, although recent signs are that this season is likely to have many similarities to those that have gone before. Just a few weeks ago, Arsenal looked as dynamic, as balanced as they have done in about a decade, but the real test of where they stand this season comes in their response to three consecutive poor performances. Even if they weren’t defeats.
Wilshere’s loan made sense for both parties, but his performances for Bournemouth thus far do not show Arsenal to have made a mistake. Gradually returning to match fitness, granted, Wilshere’s peak level of performance these days is still an unknown entity. He could reach the level that made him such a great hope, or he may have been so impacted by his injury lay-offs that he will never reach the standard for the Arsenal squad. He may even have to adapt and become a completely different type of player.
Either way, its hard to see a path back into the Arsenal first team squad for Wilshere. A permanent move away from the club could be the best way for the player and the club to move forwards.