By Jacob Ambrose Willson - @
Jack Wilshere, a figure of much scorn and mockery across the football world in recent months, completed 90 minutes of club football for the first time in over two years at the weekend, as Bournemouth held Spurs to a 0-0 draw on the South coast.
Much has been made of Wilshere’s long list of debilitating injuries and his inability to complete 90 minutes since his shock loan to the Cherries on transfer deadline day. However, the latter criticism seems to be very short-sighted, as fans and pundits are quick to reel off his injury record, but fail to realise that the 24 year old needs to be slowly built up back to full fitness before his performances can be fairly judged.
Wilshere came in for some criticism in a 4-0 drubbing to Manchester City last month, which was his first start for Bournemouth and only his second club start in two seasons. Unsurprisingly given these stats, Wilshere showed signs of rustiness and was at fault for a goal. Since this match, the England international has done little to turn heads, providing no goals and no assists and generally failing to impose himself on the pitch.
But for Wilshere to return to his classy best, this chastening early experience must be accepted as an inevitability as he slowly returns to full fitness. Now, with 6 games under his belt and one completed 90 minutes, he can look towards improving the nuances of his game and more importantly, finding an identity in the Bournemouth side.
One of the biggest conundrums for Wilshere revolves around discovering his strongest position. Once a guaranteed starter at Arsenal, his repeated spells on the side-lines meant that the Gunners midfield evolved without him, and when Wilshere did return from injury he became somewhat an outsider to the team.
His greatest performances have tended to come in an all-action midfield role, with a license to roam forward and instigate attacks. The Englishman’s top attributes include a wide range of passing, close control and dribbling, with the ability to drive forward past banks of opposing players.
However, even at his best Wilshere never brings a great goal threat, with his best Premier League tally coming in 2013/14, when he netted three times in 24 appearances. After signing Wilshere, Eddie Howe revealed his plan ‘to get him near their goal and see his creative ability’.
Therefore, if Howe stays true to his word and continues to deploy Wilshere in an attacking midfield role, he will have to look towards improving his end product. A personal best goals and assist record this season will constitute a massive positive stride towards Wilshere becoming a more effective player.
Yet, achieving this will be a huge challenge in a Bournemouth side that plays similar football to his parent club, but are miles away from the quality throughout the Arsenal squad. Training with players of a lesser ability may well hamper Wilshere’s ability to improve as a player, but his position at Arsenal was far from guaranteed so the move away may do him better good than sitting on the bench would.
Overall, Wilshere must look at his loan spell in a similar way to his first time away from Arsenal at Bolton Wanderers in 2009/10. Whilst it is desperately sad that he has regressed to a point in his career 6 years ago, he must remain positive and make Arsenal sit up and take note of his performances.
Only playing regularly will give Wilshere the chance to find his position out on the pitch, as the experience of finding space and knowing when to drive forward will return with games under his belt. If Wilshere is able to find his groove, carve out a position of his own at Bournemouth and most importantly, stay fit, then we are likely to see his performances return to his own high standards.