The Curious Incident of Jack Wilshere & Not Enough Game Time

Jack Wilshere’s move to Bournemouth on deadline day caught a few by surprise. The 34-time England international has decided to try and rebuild his career at Dean Court. Simmo looks at how such a promising career has sadly fallen by the wayside. 

Jack Wilshere’s departure to Bournemouth was met with mixed emotions by Arsenal supporters. On the one hand many fans agreed that the local hero needed games, something he was unlikely to get at The Emirates this season. On the other, Gunners aficionados were incredulous, believing that the manager, Arsène Wenger, had let their ‘Jack the lad’ down.

Wilshere has been somewhat of an enigma for many years. Since coming to national, and international prominence for some sparkling displays (including one particularly brilliant performance versus Barcelona at the Camp Nou) during the 2010-11 season, the ex-Arsenal no.10 has suffered a succession of debilitating injuries that have prevented his progress.

Since, Wilshere’s career has never reached the heights that he seemed destined to reach following his breakthrough year. Injuries and concerns regarding his attitude have certainly hampered his development. Between August 2011 until the present day, Wilshere missed nearly 900 days, and 150 matches out of a possible 275 through injuries.

Prior to requiring ankle surgery in the summer of 2011, Wilshere had enjoyed his most successful season to date. He had played 49 times for his club, won 5 England caps, and looked to be making a stellar impact on the English game. The future really did look bright.

Since that operation on his ankle, Wilshere has appeared in a paltry 85 Arsenal games. An average of just 17 a season. Despite winning a further 29 England caps, the early promise and optimism that surrounded this mercurial talent has somewhat subsided, and been replaced by a regretful sense of ‘what might have been!’

Yet to blame Wilshere’s lack of progression on injuries alone would be wrong, and would  tantamount to blind ignorance. There are others who have perhaps contributed towards Wilshere’s sad, almost pitiful demise.

Injuries can blight any footballer’s career, however, it seems that those who play under Wenger at Arsenal suffer more than most. Indeed, whilst Wilshere’s injury absences have been the biggest hindrance on his career, other factors have also significantly prevented his development.

Wenger has long professed to being a fan of Wilshere’s; just last week the Frenchmen went as far as to describe the 24-year-old as “world class.” This begs the question as to why a world class player is now plying his trade for a team enjoying only their second season of top-flight football, and destined for mid-table mediocrity (no intended disrespect to Bournemouth!)?

The answer is quite simple. Wilshere was prepared to bide his time at Arsenal, believing his chance would come over what promised to be a long season. However, when Sam Allardyce, England’s new manager, announced his first squad, Wilshere was one of many noticeable omissions.

Knowing that his England career was going to suffer, Wilshere demanded a move in order to salvage his declining career. The reality is though, Wilshere is more than good enough to be starting week in, week out for this Arsenal team.

Wenger has simply not shown enough faith in Wilshere. We can never be sure whether this has been down to a reluctance to use him due to concerns over either his ability or fitness, yet when faced with the facts, the evidence is utterly compelling. During the previous 5 seasons, and even when fit and available, Wilshere appeared (and often only in bit-part roles) in fewer than 70% of the games he had been available for.

Things came to a head this season. Fit, bar for a small and unfortunate knee injury suffered in late July, Wilshere was keen to stamp his authority on the team. Yet despite this, the Stevenage-born midfielder was surprisingly left out of the starting XI for the first three games of the season. Players such as Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny were initially preferred to him, neither of whom even come close to matching Wilshere’s ability.

If those two had been the only obstacles in Wilshere’s way, then he may well have decided to sit out these early disappointments. However, Wenger invested heavily in Granit Xhaka during the summer, seemingly pushing Wilshere further down the pecking order. Add to this the return of Santi Cazorla, and the consistent, if not sometimes bewildering insistence on picking Aaron Ramsey in a central role, Wilshere faced a situation where he could have feasibly been Arsenal’s sixth choice central midfielder.

For Wilshere enough was enough. Being overlooked by players so clearly inferior to him, seeing his England place suffer, and not having any guarantees regarding consistent playing time, all contributed to his decision to leave for the South Coast.

At Bournemouth it is highly likely that Wilshere will receive the playing time he longs for and so badly needs. The Cherries youthful manager, Eddie Howe, has employed a variety of  innovative training methods in order to ensure he understands the way each of his players best operates.

This is likely to benefit Wilshere. Too often in the recent past Arsenal players have suffered severe long-term injuries. Whether this is down to training methods or simply just bad luck will likely remain unproven, however, Raymond Verheijen, a fitness conditioning expert who worked for the Welsh national team, certainly believes it to be the former. He has been outspoken in his criticism of Wenger and his medical staff, suggesting that their methods are outdated and too severe.

Verheijen’s point is an interesting one, and if Wilshere does manage to avoid injury for the rest of this season people may begin to take his point more seriously. Nevertheless, Wilshere has to ensure he gives himself the best chance to stay fit.

In recent years’ pictures have emerged of him chuffing on cigarettes outside seedy nightclubs or in swimming pools whilst on an ill-advised ‘lads’ holidays. This behavior is hardly symptomatic of a professional athlete.

For Wilshere this is very much last chance saloon. If he wants to make use of his indisputable talent, then this is the year he has to do so.

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