Jack Wilshere Showing Signs of Working His Way Back to the Arsenal First Team

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Jack Wilshere’s career has been impacted by highs as much as it has been by lows. Some of his work for Arsenal and England has been absolutely supreme, something evidenced by the fact that his UEFA Champions League performance against Barcelona, all the way back in 2011, has taken on something approaching mythical status. Yet the fact that it has taken on that status also speaks to the lowpoints of his career, as if that match was some indication of what he could’ve been if not for the many injuries he has endured over the previous few seasons.

The player himself, of course, has not control over the perceptions of others, and the good news for him is that, as of now, he’s fit and and on the way back to full match sharpness. The signs have been good, and after years in the footballing wilderness, following several significant fitness troubles and an only acceptable loan spell at Bournemouth, he’s now re-emerging at Arsenal. He’s still yet to make an appearance in the Premier League, but he has now started in both the League Cup and the UEFA Europa League, and in the latter, his performance against BATE Borisov illustrated that he hasn’t lost too much from his game.

The quick feet are still there, as are the sharp one-twos and the swift changes of direction. The pigeon-toed gait and the stocky frame also remain, and all of these things to combine to create the unique style of play that unquestionably belongs to Wilshere. Indeed, when he does things like he did in the 9th minute against BATE, it brings back memories of Wilshere at his best.

The way he picked up possession in a left-of-centre location, before playing a neat one-two with Olivier Giroud, had shades of Arsenal’s now-famous goal, shown below, against Norwich City. He then turned on the jets to steeply accelerate between two BATE defenders, and he followed that with a deft chip into the goalmouth. Theo Walcott deflected it into Denis Scherbitski, BATE’s goalkeeper, but then did enough to score from the ensuing rebound. Walcott’s finish wasn’t all that impressive, but there’s no doubting that Wilshere’s lead-up play had a lovely flowing quality to it.

Crucially, it also had something that Wilshere’s boss, Arsene Wenger, feels is crucial to his game. “He needs this little burst to get away from people because he can turn the game forward,” the Frenchman said. “If you can turn the game forward you need your legs to get you out of the pressure. That will come back for him, I believe.”

Wenger went on to suggest that, in training, that burst is indeed coming back, and the way Wilshere breezed beyond two defenders to tee-up his teammate against BATE backs up that assertion. Importantly, the player himself also feels the same way. “I always hear the boss say it is my first five-metre burst, when I receive the ball and to get away from defenders,” Wilshere said. “I feel that’s getting better and better each day.”

To go along with that, Wilshere believes that his fitness levels are “probably the best they’ve ever been.” This is something can only help his recovery, as there have been times when he’s looked rather immobile on his path back to Arsenal’s first team. Now, though, those troubles appear to be mostly behind him, and when you throw in the fact that his first two Europa League appearances have seen him generate an impressive 91% passing accuracy rating, there are certainly strong indications that he’s returning to form.

Arsenal’s next match, against FK Crvena Zvezda in the Europa League, should give Wilshere yet another opportunity to convince Wenger that he’s ready to go. He’s on the right path in terms of match fitness and match sharpness, and although that “little burst” might still be a work in progress, it is at least there to some degree. Add in all of the doubt surrounding Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, whose contracts are expiring, and there could even be some openings in Arsenal’s starting group sooner rather than later. Who knows, another impressive performance might show Wenger that Wilshere, who was an unused substitute in Arsenal’s 2-1 loss to Watford over the weekend, is in the shape required to contribute in the league. Then, of course, there is the potential for Wilshere to earn a recall to the England national team, something which could be on the cards given the lack of creativity on offer in that side.

For now, however, Wilshere needs to focus on what’s in front of him, and as it stands, that’s Europa League football. That can be his gateway back to the biggest stages available to him at Arsenal, and despite the fact he still has some work ahead of him, he’s well on the way. Hopefully for both Wilshere and for Arsenal, the 25-year-old isn’t too far away from bringing some more highs to the table.