Jack of Hearts

When Arsene Wenger spoke of the British core, there was a particular chord beyond the mere words.

“We have to keep them all,” he said ahead of Monday’s game at Crystal Palace. “We still have a group of young English players. We have Ramsey, we have Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Gibbs. All these players, we have to make decisions and manage to keep them together.”

Wenger stressed on the need to retain the British core and yet, Wilshere registered merely ahead of Gibbs on this list. It might be an exaggerated read on a subconscious statement made in the moment. But to think that Wilshere, the boy who was given Bergkamp’s jersey, the boy who schooled Xavi and Iniesta in Central midfield, would not be the first name on an impulsive list of players, let alone British players, is a mere demonstration of the mighty fall over the last 3- 4 years. The importance of Jack had been waning prior to his loan move. But the russian roulette gamble that Wilshere impulsively took in the closing days of the transfer window after he was left out of his beloved English national squad, has spectacularly backfired.

The first gamble in Wilshere’s move was before the choice of Bournemouth. The gamble that he would not be able to get regular football ahead of Cazorla. In a strange quirk of destiny, Arsenal, Wenger and Wilshere gambled on Cazorla staying fit. At the start of the season, the midfield was built around Cazorla and the possibility of him being displaced on performance seemed an event of negligible probability. But in the cruelest of ironies, Wilshere betting on the fitness of an Arsenal central midfielder backfired with the Spanish magician being completely out of action merely 50 days or about 10 games after Wilshere left the club. In the absence of Cazorla, Wilshere is the most natural ball carrier from deep in Arsenal. He would have walked into the squad and got the first chance to cement his place in Cazorla’s absence. Also, while we are not privy to internal conversations at Arsenal, it is important to remember that Wenger was introducing Wilshere at every possible chance as a substitute (prior to the transfer). We do not know if this was to placate Jack’s need for minutes or Arsene trying to dust off his rustiness, should the situation arise. It feels like the latter but clearly, Jack did not see the displacement of Cazorla as a possibility. We can absolutely be convinced that Wilshere (or none of us) never thought that Wenger will drop his 4-2-3-1 for a 4-3-3 with two flying central midfielders. The formation seems perfect for Wilshere but the early form of Ozil would never entertain a possibility of him being seen as a luxury after 3 months.

His second gamble was to drop down a notch in terms of the clubs he chose, hoping to outshine his peers at the club and possibly stand out in comparison. Seeing Juventus dismantle Barcelona, I wonder if he imagined what could have been if he chose the Old Lady over the comfort of a Cherry (ies). Like most English players, he was possibly not keen on traveling abroad for a European adventure. He has to only look at Bale, as to how such an experience could have benefitted him. Bale’s game has become more complete, more clinical and more effective since his effervescent days at Tottenham. If Wilshere had learned the ability to control games through the center in a way Serie A teams excel, he would have walked into the Arsenal squad as a leader when he came back. It also begs the question whether the recurring injuries had corroded the confidence of this boy, whether the Wilshere of three years ago, would have readily chosen the challenge of Juventus over Bournemouth.

In the end, the familiarity of Bournemouth, the charm of Eddie Howe and the glowing reminiscence of a successful loan at Bolton (where he dropped a level notch similarly), led him to the decision. Ironically, his stats at Bolton (1 assist in 15 games) and Bournemouth (0 goals and 2 assists in 26 games) for end product are pretty similar. However, the expectations from an 18 year old and a 25 year old cannot be same. Any season below double digits in end product was expected to be seen as a disappointment from Wilshere. Bournemouth have scored 45 goals in the Premier League, at about 1.5 goals a game, 1 goal less than Manchester United. From such a performance, it seems a long way back into the Arsenal team next year. He could certainly have a resurrective year like Victor Moses next year, but until then the Jack of our hearts seems to be ready to be thrown back into the deck.

Vikas V

(Twitter: @Arsenalview_ )




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