This morning the news emerged out of Arsenal that Jack Wilshere, a full 13 months after he last limped off a football pitch in a pre-season friendly, is to return to full training with the first team squad later on this week.
Like all long-term injury absentees, the 20 year old’s stature has grown to almost unprecedented levels. As the Gunners struggled last season, the supporters longed for the quality their favoured son Wilshere would bring.
Of course, there perhaps needs to be a sense of realism. As superb as Wilshere was in his breakthrough 2010-11 season, his productivity in terms of pure goals and assists were often lacking, partly down to youthful naivety and partly due to the position the young England international found himself in – a deep lying midfield role behind the advanced Cesc Fabregas.
Arsene Wenger has often said that he sees Wilshere playing as close to the front players as possible, a la Fabregas. However, it would take the youngster time to find his feet in a new position if he was fully fit and thriving, let alone coming off the back of 13 months on the sidelines. Fortunately however, Wenger has the luxury of not needing to rush Wilshere back into playing action, particularly with the likes of Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby currently playing so well.
However, when Wilshere does eventually return to full match fitness, what he will give is something arguably none of the Gunners’ current crop of midfielders have. Wilshere is infectious on the pitch, with his courage, bite and supreme technical gifts rubbing off on his team mates. Observers have praised his constant want to pass the ball forward, to hurt the opposition rather than simply taking an easy option. Wilshere is also happy to take the ball under extreme pressure and yet more often than not, will come away with the ball at feet, running dangerously at the opposition’s backline.
Arsenal’s 2-1 home win over Barcelona in the Champions League in February 2011, shown in the video below, is arguably Wilshere’s stand out performance in an Arsenal shirt. Playing against the all conquering Spanish international midfield trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, Wilshere arguably outshone them all in what would be fair to say was one of the greatest individual Arsenal midfield performances against opposition of such calibre.
Wilshere will undoubtedly need time and patience, not only from the supporters but importantly from himself as he strives to reach those levels again. The talent is certainly there, it just may not come instantly after such an injury nightmare. However, Arsenal fans can at least look forward to finally seeing him wear the red and white shirt again and that in itself, is a wonderful sigh for both club and country.