It’s time for Jack to say goodbye – for now at least

From Charlie George and Liam Brady to Tony Adams and David Rocastle, Arsenal are a club with a proud history of players coming though their youth ranks and establishing themselves as club legends. Most football fans will agree that if a player is good enough and performs well on a regular basis, it doesn’t really matter who they are or where they came from, but there remains something romantic about a player deemed to be one of the club’s own going on to make it for them.

In the 2010/11 season, it looked like Arsenal had yet another homegrown hero to celebrate. Jack Wilshere’s breakthrough season at the tender age of 18 was nothing short of revolutionary, with the tenacity and fearlessness he displayed in the heart of the Gunners’ midfield proving to be one of the most exciting things the club could celebrate all season. His ability on the ball and his constant desire to break through the midfield and start attacks earned him a reputation as one of the brightest young talents in Europe, and Arsenal fans were understandably overjoyed at the fact that the boy dubbed as the next Paul Gascoigne was wearing the cannon on his chest. It seemed like a formality at that point that he would go on to become one of the star men for both club and country.

That notion was soon thrown into doubt that following summer when, during an Emirates Cup game against the New York Red Bulls, Wilshere suffered a stress fracture of his ankle. It was a cruel blow for both the player and his club, with Arsenal having also lost both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri to other clubs that summer, and after a number of set-backs Wilshere ended up missing the entirety of the 2011/12 season. By the time he started for Arsenal in the Premier League again, some 524 days after his last domestic appearance, all of the momentum gained his his breakthrough season had been lost. Since then he has enjoyed patches of good form that have earned him new contracts and the patience of the fans who want his desperately to succeed, but a succession of injuries in the following years have seen many question whether he’ll ever come close to reaching the potential he undoubtedly has.

The sad truth is that in the years Wilshere has spent desperately trying to maintain his fitness and earn a regular spot in the Arsenal first team, the club have moved on. They’ve had no other choice. The departures of Fabregas and Nasri gave Wilshere the perfect opportunity to become Arsenal’s star man in their midfield, but that injury in 2011 cruelly robbed him of that chance. Over the past five years the likes of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil have been brought in to take up the mantle of being the Gunners’ primary creator, a role that once looked destined to be Wilshere’s, but his inability to stay fit has meant Arsene Wenger has crafted a side capable of performing without Wilshere in it. If he is fit and healthy, as he has been in spells, there have been numerous occasions where Wilshere has put in a number of stellar performances that have reminded many that he is still here and willing to fight for his place. In many ways it would have been easier were he not such a talent, as discarding him would have been a far less painful a proposition. The fact that he is still here is a testament to the grit and determination he has shown to bounce back from every injury, and his raw talent is clearly still there. Hope remains for Jack.

With hours remaining in this summer’s transfer window, however, a decision must now be made with regards to his future. Wilshere returned from a long-term injury in the final weeks of last season and despite a disappointing summer with England at the European Championships and a minor injury suffered in pre-season, he is looking sharp and capable of contributing. The issue now for him now is that Arsenal’s midfield is now one of the deepest and best in the league, and it has become increasingly difficult for Wenger to fit him into the side. There’s no question of him usurping Ozil for the number ten position, nor is he likely to be given a chance out wide with the likes of Alexis, Iwobi, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain all preferred to him there. The central midfield position which suits him best has also become incredibly competitive, and he now faces stiff competition from Xhaka, Elneny, Coquelin, Cazorla and Ramsey for a spot in the middle of the Arsenal team. No matter how you look at it there just isn’t a space for Wilshere in this Arsenal starting eleven right now, and unless a number of players pick up injuries – something that is not out of the question at Arsenal, admittedly – he faces the prospect of being limited to appearances off the bench and the odd start in cup competitions this season. It’s far from the ideal situation for him.

Few fans want Wilshere sold, and it’s unlikely that he’ll want to leave. However, the prospect of a loan seems like a smart move at this stage of his career. At 24 years of age he still has a great deal of time on his side, but the truth of the matter is that if Wilshere is ever going to establish himself as a player of real quality again, he has to play football on a regular basis. It’s one thing for him to maintain his fitness, but his development cannot be kickstarted again if he’s reduced to limited amounts of playing time. The best thing for his career right now is that he plays every week to see firstly how his body holds up, and secondly if he can really start to regain that momentum lost all those years ago. For Arsenal it is a tough decision to make, but with a midfield now bulging with depth they can afford to make this call, and on a long-term timescale this could be the best thing for the club as well. There is still time for Wilshere to become the next Brady or Rocastle, but if that’s ever going to happen they might have to let him fly the nest – if only for a while.

Callum Perritt

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