Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere continued his long-awaited comeback from injury with another fine performance for the club’s U-21 side against Everton on Monday, after making the bench for his team’s defeat against Norwich at the weekend, but have England or Arsene Wenger’s side missed him more?
There’s a temptation with injured players is to build them up into something they’re not with football fans often thinking that the grass is always greener and reputations are often enhanced during a prolonged spell on the sidelines once their importance is truly realised; Owen Hargreaves fell into this trap while at Manchester United, taking on a world-beating quality instead of the steady, capable holding man he was, even if they’ve been crying out for a player of his calibre ever since in that position and Wilshere has been in danger of following suit.
Nevertheless, that isn’t to downgrade what a truly special talent Wilshere is and in his absence, both club and country have cast longing glances at his ankle brace, hoping and praying for it to come off sooner than expected. Unfortunately it’s taken nearly 14 months for him to return to first-team training, but the initial reports of his progress and performances have been extremely promising.
Lest we forget that after well over a year out through injury before, though, that at this stage in a young players development that it can feel like an eternity and it’s certainly had an effect on Aaron Ramsey’s form last season and most of this and there’s a danger of hyping Wilshere up too much before he’s truly ready and we must be patient when it comes to managing expectations.
That isn’t to say that he won’t be thrust straight back into the Arsenal side as soon as the effects of his ankle and knee injuries are fully behind him, though and it would come as no surprise to see him occupy a more creative role further forward with Mikel Arteta assuming defensive duties just in front of the back four so far this campaign to great effect after taking over the role from the Alex Song.
Summer signing Santi Cazorla has also flourished in a more central role while the first shoots of a recovery and of a new beginning for Abou Diaby were sown with a decent showing at Anfield in the 2-0 win over Liverpool. Manager Arsene Wenger has options but Wilshere remains the crown jewel, capable of dictating tempo, beating a man and creating something out of nothing from the middle of the park.
After their defeat to Chris Hughton’s struggling Norwich, it brought even further light into what has been a deeply indifferent start to the new league season for the club, despite some people’s absurd claims just a few weeks back that they were title contenders simply because they drew with Manchester City away from home and they were subsequently out-played by a vibrant Chelsea side.
With just 12 points from their opening eight games, they sit in 9th in the league table, behind Fulham, West Ham and West Brom and it’s worth noting that they’ve won just three games, scoring just 13 goals in the process. Profligate finishing has been a main part of that, as has a number of new players settling into key attacking positions, but it’s been far from scintillating and they’ve failed to trouble the scorers against Stoke, Norwich and Sunderland now. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to argue that Wilshere may have had a telling impact on these sorts of games.
However, by my reckoning at least, Roy Hodgson’s England side need him even more and the performances of the side in his absence have shown a worrying and deeply alarming long-term deficiency which he could go a long way towards helping fix and it would be no surprise to see him walk straight back into the team after only a handful of games at club level.
Wilshere has just five caps for England so far so it’s odd to talk about him in such glowing terms for a team that he’s barely had a chance to represent yet, but Michael Carrick’s inept and ponderous performances against San Marino and Poland have just brought home even further the need to have a central midfielder capable of not only picking a pass but recycling possession quickly and fluently.
While Hodgson may be clinging to the ’11-game unbeaten’ line, completely ignoring the fact that England did in fact lose to Italy, albeit on penalties at Euro 2012, a mainstay of his England team so far has been an inability to keep hold of the ball while dropping unnecessarily deep and the national side has only recorded more than 50% possession in just two of his games in charge thus far, a stat he is less keen to bring up it would seem.
Scott Parker has shown himself to be a game and willing runner and he deserved his shot at international recognition after his superb club form, but he’s not the future and neither is Gareth Barry. Frank Lampard will likely be a 36-year-old plying his trade in Los Angeles by the time that the next World Cup rolls around, while Tom Cleverley only influences the game sporadically and lacks a clearly defined role for both club and country so far.
Arsenal have been far from oustanding so far this season but by and large, their midfield department has coped well without Wilshere, but when it comes to England, they couldn’t have missed the youngster more if they tried and you sense that Hodgson’s side will only begin to play in the way that he wants them to once the 20-year-old returns to the fold.
He’s an exceptional talent and in a way he exemplifies the changing attitudes in this country to a more patient, possession-based style of play, with passion and commitment alone now no longer deemed enough to win you over the affections of the terraces as James Milner would surely testify to; it’s this emblematic quality more than anything else for which he has been sorely missed and he’ll improve both teams chances a whole more when he finally does return, even if England may have missed him the most up until this point.
You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1
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