Now that Jack's back, what does it mean for Arsenal?
Jack Wilshere returned to Arsenal's starting lineup at the weekend in the Gunners' 1-0 home victory over Queens Park Rangers in the English Premier League. The start was Wilshere's first appearance for Arsenal in a first-team match since May 2011.
In the 524 days between first-team appearances, Wilshere had battled through a series of injuries and setbacks. His return lasted 67 minutes, a fact that's not surprising considering the amount of time Wilshere spent away from the lineup.
Wilshere generally played well during those 67 minutes, contributing often to an Arsenal attack that had sputtered in its previous matches against Schalke (in the UEFA Champions League) and Norwich City (in the Premier League).
The performance drew strong reviews from Wilshere's teammates and manager Arsene Wenger.
“He’s an amazing player,” Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen said of Wilshere (via Arsenal.com). “I think he can be one of the best midfielders in the world because what he did in his first year was great.”
Added Wenger (via Arsenal.com):
For the first game it looked quite promising. He plays in a new midfield because the last time he played it was with Nasri, Fabregas and Song. Now he is in a new midfield, and it can take a little bit of time to adjust but that will come quickly.
Wilshere himself expressed relief and spoke about the need to continue working hard (via Arsenal.com):
It's been a long journey. As I've just been told, it's been 524 days since my last game. That's a long time, especially not to have any competition. You can play many reserve games but to come back into the Premier League is difficult.
How well did Wilshere perform? What can Gooners expect from the 20-year-old England international's return?
Let's look at the stats.
(Stats via WhoScored.com)
Wilshere completed 93.6 percent of his passes Saturday against QPR. Such a high ratio fits in well with Arsenal's possession-oriented style and should bode well for Wilshere's potential partnership with fellow midfielders Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla.
As Wenger pointed out, Arsenal's midfield featured Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri the last time Wilshere was healthy. He will need time to develop an understanding with his new midfield mates, but Saturday's stats hint at how successful a midfield of Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla could be.
Wilshere's touches, key passes, tackles and interceptions on Saturday were slightly down from his 2010-11 averages, but that should not be a serious concern for Wenger. One match is too small a sample size with which to draw conclusions, and Wilshere was probably instructed to avoid unnecessary physical challenges in order to protect himself.
Meanwhile, Wilshere completed four dribbles (up from 1.7 per match in 2010-11) and took one shot (roughly equal) against QPR. Here, too, sample size should serve as a caution, but it's interesting to wonder whether Wilshere has added a new dimension (dribbling) to his game.
All considered, Wilshere's return should serve as an encouraging sign for Arsenal fans weary from defeats to Norwich and Schalke. If he remains healthy, Wilshere should present Wenger with a high-quality option in midfield for the rest of the season and in the years to come.