Arsenal fans are excited about the 2013-14 season, and it’s not just because of the combination of a promising end to the last Premier League season and burgeoning financial power.
Another major factor raising the anticipation level among Gunners supporters is the return to full fitness of a certain Jack Wilshere.
The euphoria of Wilshere’s return last season after an 18-month lay-off masked the physical realities of the situation. Wilshere was thrown in at the deep end when he needed to be taking baby steps.
There were still flashes of brilliance. His fabulous winning goal against Swansea was a reminder of his match-winning potential. By December, his trademark “little burst” was regularly in evidence. However, what we fans couldn’t see is what each of those bursts cost Wilshere.
It transpired that the young midfielder was playing through pain. That same willingness to ignore discomfort had contributed to the genesis of his initial injury problems. In March, as Arsenal played out a vital derby against Tottenham, Wilshere finally succumbed to the strain and limped off clutching his ankle.
Arsene Wenger made the only sensible decision: He took Wilshere out of the firing line. He missed eight weeks of action before returning to face Norwich. Even then, Arsene Wenger admitted to the BBC that he’d been “rushed” in to action. Between that fixture and the end of the season, Wilshere was used predominantly as a substitute, coming on to help shore up games late on.
Since then, Wilshere has undergone successful surgery to repair minor damage in his troublesome ankle. Yesterday, he made his return to action in a friendly against Vietnam. Encouragingly, he looked free of pain and full of running.
Wilshere is finally ready to show us what he can do.
The benefit of a full preseason can not be underestimated. Wilshere will go into the season having done extensive work on his stamina. According to Squawka, Wilshere completed a full 90 minutes in just 56 percent of his appearances last season. Next year he should have no such problems.
Given time to get into a rhythm, Wilshere is certain to impress.
His potential is almost limitless. He is the brightest English talent of his generation. Not since Paul Gascoigne has England produced a midfielder with Wilshere’s combination of guile, guts and skill. He is as likely to be found throwing himself into a full-blooded challenge as nut-megging an onrushing defender.
Wilshere is both a warrior and an artist. He has fight and flair. What’s more, he’s a natural leader. As Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen tussle over the captain’s armband, Wilshere is patently Arsenal’s captain-in-waiting.
If the Gunners are to launch any kind of title challenge this year, Wilshere is certain to be at the heart of it.
This time, he’s ready.