Amongst Arsenal fans, this is the story that no one wanted to break. Jack Wilshere, the 21-year-old who Gunners young and old have placed their faith in to lead the ailing North London club to a restoration of the glory of old, is injured once more.
Via BBC Sport, the story broke earlier on Tuesday that Wilshere would be out of action for at least three weeks due to an ankle injury—the other ankle to the joint that bore the brunt of the previous injury that laid him off for over a year. The knock should make Wilshere unavailable for Arsenal's next few fixtures, including crucial games against Bayern Munich and Swansea City, as well as isolating him from Roy Hodgson's England plans.
Now, there are tales of young players blessed with truly special footballing talents whose careers have been damaged by perennial injuries—the treatment room plight of Ajax's Icelandic forward Kolbeinn Sigþórsson rings a bell. But whereas the Scandinavian's team can, and do, function successfully without him, a fate for Arsenal without Wilshere is somewhat murkier.
While this is not an argument for Arsenal being a "one-man team," nor is it a suggestion that Arsenal without Wilshere are bound to fail, it is a huge and potentially decisive blow to team morale.
Unfortunately, if there is one intangible Arsenal is currently lacking, it's confidence.
After utterly demoralising defeats in the North London derby and when hosting Bayern in the Champions League—the perhaps futile return leg of which is tomorrow night, March 13—the Gunners could really do with a pick-me-up of sorts, something to get them off the mat and shake them up in time to perform in Munich. And while Arsenal, a multi-faceted, exciting attacking force at the best of times, have the players to complete a shock like that, Wilshere is one of those key cogs.
Even in the darkest of times this season, the mortifying Capital One Cup defeat to Bradford City for instance, Wilshere was the field marshal. He was the man on the field, the midfield general—at times the only one playing for the crest on his shirt, for Arsenal's honour. Without him in Munich and for the next three weeks, Arsenal's objectives for the end of the season are unquantifiably more difficult.
This is simply because Arsenal are running out of time. Wednesday's fixture aside—to some a foregone conclusion—the Gunners have only 10 more league games in which to make up two deficits.
Firstly, Arsenal are five points behind crosstown rivals Chelsea for the crucial Champions League berth. Secondly—and more humbly—they are seven points behind the loathed rivals Tottenham Hotspur, currently sitting, overachieving some might say, in third place.
While Arsene Wenger does have the likes of Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott at his disposal in his quest to turn the tide in the Premier League, the absence of Wilshere will be tough to take. So often this season he has looked a complete footballer; precise and stoic in the tackle, incisive in his passing, and inspiring in his leadership.
In taking the armband earlier in the season, Arsenal fans got a quick glimpse of a sight all would hope to see for years to come: one of the most gifted and determined young midfielders of today leading their side out against the most formidable of opponents.
In truth, it's a simple equation. Arsenal have a limited amount of time to advance past their rivals and ensure St. Totteringham's Day is celebrated once more, as it has been towards the end of the season for the last sixteen years.
They are not totally reliant on Jack Wilshere—after all, they finished above Tottenham last year with Wilshere not setting foot on the pitch once in the Premier League.
But boy, could they use him.