Jack Wilshere's return from injury was undoubtedly one of the highlights of Arsenal's 2012-13 campaign. He was viewed by many fans as a messiah who could single-handedly save the Gunners' season.
His early form suggested that the expectation levels were justified. Wilshere marked his return from his 18 month lay-off by starting the home match with QPR in October. Instantly, Arsenal fans were reminded of his extraordinary gifts. It was as if he hadn't been away.
By December, Arsene Wenger was heralding the return of Wilshere's "little burst" on the club website:
He is getting closer to the player we know he is and today I think he made a big step. You could see it already this week in training, that he has gained a little burst again, a little zip in the first three or four yards.
The reappearance of that characteristic acceleration was a sure sign that the young midfielder's game was returning to its former glory. Wilshere's performances reached their zenith in January's FA Cup clash with Swansea, as he capped a man-of-the-match display by crashing home the winning goal with a volley from the edge of the box.
However, when Arsenal faced Tottenham in early March, Wilshere suffered damage to his vulnerable ankle.
He missed eight weeks of action before returning in a 3-1 win over Norwich. Even then, Arsene Wenger admitted to the BBC that he had “rushed” the midfielder back in to action.
Between March and the end of the season, Wilshere faded into the background, spending more time on the substitutes' bench than in central midfield.
The reason for Wilshere’s absence was two-fold.
First and foremost, there was a concern over the player’s fitness. Arsene Wenger was evidently keen to protect a player who required minor surgery at the end of the season. Using Wilshere as a substitute allowed Arsenal to postpone the surgery without incurring great risk.
It was also a tactical choice. After the derby defeat against Spurs, Arsene Wenger restructured his side around a midfield trio of Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky. All three players are arguably more defensively disciplined than Wilshere.
Along with the central defensive pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, the new-look midfield established a solid platform upon which a pragmatic Arsenal side would build their successful campaign for Champions League qualification.
The statistics suggest this iteration of the Arsenal XI was more successful than its predecessor:
It’s no surprise to see that Arsenal conceded fewer goals without Wilshere. Even when Wilshere starts in a holding midfield role he is unable to deny his attacking inclinations, and this can lead to the Gunners being caught on the counterattack.
The surprising stat is that Arsenal also scored more goals without Wilshere in the side. This is best explained by the fact that Wilshere’s withdrawal from the first XI also coincided with Santi Cazorla being moved into the front three, where he was able to wreak havoc more freely.
The win ratio of 60 percent speaks for itself. In 2012-13, Arsene were better without Wilshere.
However, this is unlikely to be the case in 2013-14.
Wilshere remains one of the squad’s most talented players and a talisman for supporters. Arsene Wenger must find a way to reincorporate the young playmaker in to his team, as he is destined to be a huge part of the club’s future.