Arsenal's Jack Wilshere has missed the entire EPL campaign thus far.
Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere was brilliant last season. Bursting into the Barclays Premier League at just 19 years of age, Wilshere did his best Cesc Fabregas impression and helped the Gunners to secure a fourth-place finish and a 2011-2012 Champions League bid.
While he's far less of a goal threat than the Gunners' departed captain, Wilshere's brilliant passing and vision led to many chances that Arsenal simply aren't creating this year.
Wilshere's continued absence will be felt in the coming days. Not only in the EPL, but certainly in their Champions League presence, as well.
How Arsenal react to this news may define the rest of their season. And it starts now.
Madrid's Esteban Granero may be available.
With news, via The Daily Mail, surfacing that Wilshere may not return at all this season, it is time for Arsene Wenger to act. Arsenal have lacked quality midfield play all season. Their lack of vision in the middle of the park has led to a decrease in goals per game, and more importantly, points per game.
Last season, Arsenal was the best road team in the league, scoring a brilliant 31 points. Their possession game, similar to that of Spain's FC Barcelona, relies heavily on central midfielders being able to keep the ball flowing from player to player, lulling the defense to sleep before attacking the best opening.
No Wilshere equates to reduced possession, and subsequently, less offense.
Arsenal's season hinges on their ability to get more points than they have been. In the month of January, they are 0-0-3, and are now sitting fifth in the table, five points behind Chelsea. By Wenger's own admission, it would be a "disaster" for Arsenal to fall short of their Champions League aspirations for next season.
If they want to get there, it's time to buy. There a couple players I think they could certainly target and, for the right price, bring to the Emirates.
Real Madrid's 24-year-old Esteban Granero has been mostly sitting on the bench for the Galacticos for the past few seasons. Their ridiculous depth in midfield, in contrast to Arsenal's, does not allow him much playing time. With Kaka, Mesut Ozil, Nuri Sahin, Lassana Diarra and Xabi Alonso clogging the middle, Granero's chances of getting into meaningful games are not good.
However, his playmaking abilities should not be overlooked, and his goal-scoring record far surpasses that of Wilshere. He brings an attacking element that Arsenal is lacking at present.
A second option out of Spain would be Valencia's Dani Parejo. Not only does he come with a more than reasonable price tag (rumored to be around £7-8 million), but he also has experience playing in England, having played a spell for Queens Park Rangers.
Parejo has fallen out of favor in Valencia, and they are shopping him openly. Liverpool are also rumored to be considering him, so Arsenal should move quickly if they wish to sign him.
Arsene Wenger has his work cut out for him if Arsenal are to finish in the top four.
Arsenal are in a quandary.
Honestly, with all things considered, the fact that they sit fifth in the table is a miracle.
After losing captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona, superstar Samir Nasri to Manchester City and Jack Wilshere to injury, the Gunners could be, and probably should be, worse off than they are.
That being said, they are in big trouble.
They sit five points behind Chelsea, who are in fourth place. With 16 league matches remaining, that obstacle is certainly not insurmountable. But the odds are against them.
Arsenal's form of late has been the stuff of nightmares. They've lost their last three league matches, which is why they now sit in fifth. Chelsea, meanwhile, have won two of their last three, along with a draw. Arsenal needs to turn it around February 1st at Bolton. If they cannot take three points from the 17th-place Wanderers, their season may already be over.
Another potential problem lies in goal differential. If Arsenal and Chelsea should end level in points, Chelsea would currently still earn the fourth-place finish. Arsenal's current goal differential is a paltry six, while Chelsea boasts a 15-goal differential.
A final problem in this race for Arsenal is that they aren't alone. Newcastle United are level with the Gunners in points and trail by only a goal differential of four. Liverpool also sit in position to make a move, trailing Arsenal by a single point.
Arsenal will have their hands full with Ibrahimovic and Co.
The Arsenal vs. AC Milan matchup may be decided almost solely by the play of each team's front man.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been one of the most polarizing figures in world football over the last five years. He has been transferred three times since 2006. But everywhere he goes, he wins.
He is enjoying one of his best seasons as a pro, having scored 14 goals in 16 games. He was also recently named the top player in Italy.
Arsenal will have a tough time with Milan, based on their performances to date. At home they struggle to score, averaging only 1.55 goals per game. Meanwhile, on the road they struggle to stop the other team from scoring, giving up over two goals per game.
This is precisely why it is important for Arsenal that...
RVP has been world class this season.
Arsenal front man Robin van Persie has been nothing short of amazing this season.
Despite the aforementioned lack of talent in midfield, RVP has lit the EPL on fire this season.
With 19 goals and five assists, Van Persie has almost single-handedly kept the Gunners afloat this season. His 19 goals lead the league by four, and his five assists tie him for 11th.
Not too shabby.
With Wilshere's continued absence, RVP will be required to do just as much for the remainder of the season, which could spell trouble for Arsenal, as he has struggled to stay healthy for an entire campaign during recent years.
To date, however, van Persie has started more games than any other outfield player for Arsenal, missing only one game.
With young Jack to remain sidelined, expect to see van Persie doing everything from scoring goals to selling popcorn for Arsenal, just as he has all season.
Jack Wilshere's future looks a little less clear than it did a year ago.
Last year, Jack Wilshere looked to be many things: the replacement for Fabregas, the future of the English midfield, a budding superstar.
Now, who knows?
With only one season of EPL play under his belt, and now a whole season missed, who can say where he will go next?
Being a young talent, every year of development is pivotal. He's missed one.
Having missed this year, Fabio Capello, manager of England's national squad, may be reluctant to select Wilshere for upcoming national competitions, even if he is fit. Failure to be selected for these competitions may greatly damper his confidence, leading to further delays in development.
One thing we do know is that Arsene Wenger and Arsenal manage and develop young talent as well as anyone in the world, save perhaps Barcelona.
The only certainty of Jack Wilshere's future is that nothing is certain. His road to stardom just got a bit bumpier.