In danger of being remembered more for his injuries, Jack Wilshere needed to play regularly this season. At Arsenal, there was no guarantee of anything other than a long, hard struggle to get that.
Keen to reignite his England career, it became apparent to Wilshere that he needed a loan spell. Despite making two cameos for his club, the soon-to-be disgraced Sam Allardyce ignored Wilshere for what turned out to be his only squad.
Arsène Wenger agreed that a move would be beneficial, sparking a bun fight for the midfielder’s services. There was never a moment in the Frenchman’s mind when a sale was envisaged but he would win by having Wilshere brought through to match fitness at someone else’s expense.
Crystal Palace and Watford made their interest immediately known, with the added bonus of keeping him close to his young children who live with Wilshere’s estranged partner. That put them ahead of Roma and Valencia who both registered interest, and of Everton.
In the end, he chose neither and surprisingly ignored overtures from Southampton, opting instead for Bournemouth. Eddie Howe’s burgeoning reputation as a coach was a key factor. Mentioned as a future England boss, some saw this as a year-long interview as Arsène Wenger’s successor. Manage Wilshere’s return to form and Howe would receive an open invitation to the Emirates.
Since moving to Dean Court, the Bournemouth boss has nursed Wilshere back to fitness. His first three games saw him play a total of 64 minutes. In stages Howe increased his match time, to the point where he has completed three consecutive ninety minutes.
For a man whose career has been blighted by injury, it is a major step. Eyes will now be watching to see if he can maintain this run. Whilst Wilshere is eager to return to the highest levels as soon as possible, patience is key. Incremental targets such as playing a full ninety minutes, then adding in doing so on a regular basis.
Gareth Southgate gave Wilshere a timely boost, recalling him to the England squad for the recent matches against Scotland and Spain. Although not called upon to play, it was another target on the list to tick off.
Although the end of the season is some way off, thoughts of the future must cross his mind regularly. Having been at Arsenal since he was nine years old, is he destined to be an anomaly in the Premier League era; a one-club man?
It’s a subject guaranteed to stir debate. Wilshere – along with Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson – was part of the much-vaunted British core of players at Arsenal, ones who would give the club a new identity and deliver the Gunners back to the top of the table.
It didn’t happen. Like England’s Golden Generation, they didn’t live up to the hype. Arsenal still wait to win the Premier League title eleven years on from the last.
The biggest issue is how to fit Jack Wilshere into the Arsenal side. His favoured role – the advanced playmaker – is taken and may be for some time; Mesut Özil is likely to sign a new deal at the Emirates and unless injury strikes, the first name on the teamsheet.
Roy Hodgson experimented with Wilshere in the quarterback role, sitting at the base of a diamond midfield. At Arsenal, the formation is different but Santi Cazorla dictates the tempo of the Gunners attacking play.
Wilshere is a different type of player to the Spaniard. Cazorla scurries, feeding quick passes in staccato style to colleagues. Wilshere is a dribbler, luring opponents into tackles – drawing a lot of fouls – in the hope of creating space for colleagues to whom he can pass.
From the deeper role, it is trickier to use this style of play effectively; opponents can quickly and easily counteract by flooding the midfield with numbers. To be successful, Wilshere would need to change his style and in those circumstances, do you lose more than you gain?
It leaves Arsenal to change to accommodate him. A dual-pronged attacking midfield from Wilshere and Özil, perhaps? Both have shown they can contribute more goals consistently than they have in the past.
Arsenal under Wenger embrace flexibility, eschewing the rigidity of formations in favour of individual responsibility. The players know their roles in the side, how they carry them out is their decision.
With that in mind is there any reason to believe Wenger – or his successor – won’t find a solution which includes the mercurial midfielder?
By extension, Wilshere has to find patience, to embrace it. He’s on a mission, with lost time to make up for. Injuries have so disrupted his career that he believes that he must play every week.
He has the talent to demand that from a club but his first step is regaining his match sharpness. When he has that, when there are no questions about whether he is going to breakdown again?
Arsène Wenger doesn’t want Wilshere to leave Arsenal but does Wilshere want to stay? The interest in him from Roma suggests that bigger European clubs aren’t scared of his injury record but will there be any which offer him any more than he can get in north London?