The current campaign has been a rather taxing experience for Jack Wilshere. While the rest of the Arsenal cast have dazzled and delighted, holding top spot in the Premier League table for a good four months, the midfielder’s performances have ranged from impressive to absent, with the dynamic displays of old few and far between.
Back in the summer, if through knowledge of a crystal ball you were informed the Gunners would awaken from their dormant state and take up a pivotal role in the Premier League’s title race, you would have automatically assumed that Wilshere would be at the centre of it. Having found just three goals and four assists in 23 league appearances however, the much-heralded England international has been a sideshow attraction, leaving his Arsenal team-mates to revel in the limelight.
After picking up a variety of niggling knocks throughout the season, the regularly-crocked midfielder now faces six weeks on the sidelines after being upended on international duty by Denmark and Liverpool defender Daniel Agger. He faces a race for fitness ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
Based on form and fitness throughout the season, the Gunners midfielder should not be going to Brazil. But through reputation alone, harking back to that award-winning 2010/11 campaign where Wilshere picked up the Premier League Young Player of the Year and Arsenal Player of the Year accolades, was anointed into the PFA Team of the Season and his world-class potential was obvious for all to see, the Emirates starlet’s name has already been written on Roy Hodgson’s team sheet in permanent marker.
Wait a second – doesn’t this story sound awfully familiar? An injury-striken Arsenal midfielder producing by no means his best form despite the obvious potential? In the mean time, his starting role for club and country almost virtually guaranteed? Barring the references to the England national team, for lack of a more applicable terminology, is Jack Wilshere doing a bit of an Aaron Ramsey?
The contrasting fortunes of the Welshman’s Emirates career are well known. Sourced from Cardiff City as a prominent teenager, the then-long-haired Ramsey arrived in North London as a high-in-confidence young buck, twisting. turning, creating and scoring in midfield and demonstrating the kind of promise that would make his £4.8million signing seem like absolute peanuts a few years down the line.
A leg break in 2010, courtesy of Stoke City shin-shatter enthusiast Ryan Shawcross, severely halted the 23 year-old’s development, not only due to the many months he was forced to spend out of the game in recovery, but furthermore the psychological fear of another serious injury that was left imprinted upon the youngster’s mindset.
Resultantly, Ramsey spent two years in the Arsenal first team verging upon boo-boy status at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger’s trust in the midfielder saw him miss just six Premier League fixtures in the space of two seasons, but the Wales international’s performances on the pitch failed to justify such a guaranteed role in the Gunners starting XI – much like Wilshere this season.
The breakthrough came this year – Ramsey claimed a sensational eight goals and six assists in 18 appearances in the first half of the season before being sidelined with a thigh injury in December, also averaging an astonishing 3.7 tackles per match. A far cry from his reputation just a matter of months earlier, where many suspected Ramsey’s lack of progress at the Emirates would result in an abrupt summer departure.
Back in September, Wenger told reporters regarding the Welshman’s almighty improvement; “He was resistant to go into the fights for a long, long time but now he’s over it. He had a difficult period last season where people became a little bit impatient with him. He lost confidence and sometimes, if you give the players a little rest, it can rebuild their confidence.”
Comparisons with Wilshere’s recent plight are obvious. Like his midfield team-mate, the England international burst onto the Emirates scene in a blaze of glory, heralded as a future star for club and country in his first season and his technical talents regarded as worthy enough of Barcelona’s legendary midfield. Inevitably unable to live up to that reputation since has been Wilshere’s biggest failing. The same can be said of the former Cardiff midfielder before this season.
But once again, likewise to the Welshman, the 22 year-old missed an entire campaign of his career through injury, and although he went on to make 25 Premier League appearances last term, the brief from Arsenal’s medical department was ‘to be used sparingly’ – starting runs in the first team were a noticeably rare occurrence. The following campaign – the current one – has been a period of frustrating stagnation for the Englishman, where performances have fallen some way short of lofty expectations.
With that in mind, could it be that Wilshere’s malaise in form this season can be sourced to the same psychological blockade that plagued Aaron Ramsey? Should we as fans have learnt from the Welshman’s episode not to overhype a talented youngster too soon, especially when injures are regularly involved?
The Three Lions midfielder is often regarded as combative in nature, and although his repetitive injures may be a subliminal concern, by personal feelings are that Wilshere hasn’t been challenged enough throughout his career – his place in the Arsenal team, providing full fitness, has always been certain, and the same can be said for the midfielder’s regular participation in England starting XIs.
Either way, if in parody of Ramsey, this is Wilshere’s darkest hour before the dawn, Arsenal fans will feel little cause for concern. Wenger put his utmost faith in the Welshman and he’s become a far better player for it, after defeating his own personal demons. The Frenchman has made it abundantly clear that the Three Lions starlet will receive likewise backing.
But for England supporters, they’ll be hoping that this Ramsey-esque phase of Wilshere’s career doesn’t last too long. If they could pick between the Ramsey now and the Ramsey of the last two years to represent them at the coming World Cup, the result would be unanimous.