Even if you are injured, there is no escaping the barbs about Arsenal’s performances this year as Jack Wilshere found out this week. Paul Scholes held Wilshere as a reason for Arsenal’s woes and whilst his assertion that the youngster is no better than at 17 was wide of the mark, it did not detract from some painfully accurate observations about the character of Arsenal’s midfield this season. As for Stewart Robson, well, the less said the better about his variant on Scholes theme; he has his own agenda which doesn’t necessarily tie in with what is best for anyone other than himself. The key thrust of Scholes argument revolved around the lack of fight shown and how a player in the mould of Patrick Vieira would add more authority to the current squad. If Yaya Toure’s influence over Manchester City is anything to go by, of course he would; the pair are identikit players albeit the Ivorian scores more frequently. Mind you, I would expect Vieira in his prime to rip through most Premier League midfields at the moment; there aren’t many that you would conclude are a world-class trio or quartet.
Wilshere would benefit from such protection at club and international level. In a World Cup year, preparations have been disrupted for the midfielder although it could be argued that the ‘rest’ he is having now is beneficial to his country. I don’t recall expectations being so low this year with bookmakers like Football free bet offering odds of 33/1 for England to win this year, the polar opposite of when Scholes was part of the self-proclaimed Golden Generation. The delicious irony of it all that Scholes should choose to kick an England international having been party to some of the most abject failures.
Even so, Wilshere is not beyond criticism and to some extent suffers from being a local hero. Arsène quite rightly does not care which passport a player holds, he just wants the best for the club which puts pressure on players such as Jack when they do come through the ranks, particularly one with as much natural ability. He is ‘one of us’, the Premier League equivalent of Charlie George’s ascent from the terraces to pedestal. It is not quite as romantic as his predecessors journey but that is the flaw with the modern game; it can’t be with so much invested in academies now. Which, before anyone says anything, is no bad thing but for Arsenal, it could be better and hopefully will with the appointment of Andries Jonker.
Injuries have plagued his career thus far with his list of injuries beginning to get a touch long. The latest, a fracture suffered on international duty, is one that can be classed as unlucky albeit worsened by the decision not to substitute a player in a meaningless friendly. At least UEFA dealt with that part by introducing the Nations League to us. Yes, that will make international friendlies so much more purposeful, the prospect of relegation and promotion, accompanied by a place at the Euro table if you are a lucky winner. That means more competitive games for players and more pressure. That would have exacerbated Arsenal’s current position with the fatigue evident in the midfield probably worsened for those fit. The tiredness of playing with no respite or rotation has shown and is compounded by the absence of Wilshere and Ramsey amongst others. Factor in bad results and no wonder confidence takes time to come back. If we have learned anything from this season, a couple of extra midfielders are required.
The weight of expectation is on Wilshere. Like Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain, they are the future of the club except the modern game dictates that the future is now, no time allowed for growing up. Each has their own problems to deal with but all are expected to be matchwinners now they are first team regulars. Injury has blighted their seasons on the pitch but perhaps Wilshere is suffering more than most. He wears his heart on his sleeve and frustrations are easily aired. Incidents on and off the pitch have distracted this season but with hindsight, suffering abuse from City fans does warrant the reaction it got. Football is now so prissy that players are required to be angelic; they cannot react to anything from the stands because all-seater stadiums have sapped the character from the game. Complaining about taking ‘selfies’ is so utterly bizarre that you question how such stories get traction.
Wilshere’s frustrations at Eastlands are the reactions you want to see because he was so utterly furious over his own and the team’s performance that he lost his cool. If that is evidence of petulance, I have no issue with it. The other side of that coin is the niggling fouls committed and constant yapping in the referee’s ear during a match. But some players are like that, especially if they feel the official is affording them little or no protection. Why shouldn’t he be airing his views? So long as he exercises enough judgement to know when to call a temporary or permanent halt to proceedings, that is good enough for me.
His biggest lesson is to learn that he is not solely responsible for turning a match, of trying too hard. You can see that in some games where the effort is pushed to the limit but credit to him, he never hides in matches. It is part of the learning curve in what is still only his third full season as a player. We forget that. The odd appearance here and there from 2008 – 11 plus a loan spell at Bolton came to a crushing halt as 2011-12 was entirely wiped out with injury. The stop / start nature of his return were reminiscent of the struggles Aaron Ramsey faced. Effectively one season absent became two as match fitness and form were interrupted as his body re-adjusts to playing each week. Is that evidence of mismanagement? Some believe so, others are adamant the opposite holds. The truth is probably somewhere between the two.
The genuine concern is that this cycle of events will continue and haunt his career, cast him into the category of Marinello, Petrovic and Nicholas; unfulfilled potential but loved by the crowd as opposed to local hero. Wilshere has much to learn and will do so from the likes of Rosicky, Cazorla and Özil. The hopes of him being a staple of the midfield for years to come depend on patience as he recovers from the spell of injuries which have blighted him so far. Patience is in short supply at the moment.