At half-time during Arsenal's victory over West Brom, Sky's punditry pairing of the two Jamies, messrs Redknapp and Carragher, speculated that it might be prudent for Arsene Wenger to withdraw Jack Wilshere.
It was not an unreasonable suggestion. Arsenal were trailing by a goal to nil, and Wilshere had arguably been the Gunners' poorest player.
Stationed in an unfamiliar role on the left flank, Wilshere cut a frustrated and occasionally forlorn figure.
He seemed to spend as much time on the ground as on the ball. Every time he received possession he dribbled directly in to traffic, often ending up losing both the ball and his footing.
Wilshere’s frustration eventually boiled over in to aggression, and he found himself on the receiving end of a yellow card after one particularly over-exuberant run. The booking only served to compound his growing irritation with the referee.
Wilshere looked like a red card waiting to happen.
However, Arsene Wenger confounded the pundits by choosing to stick with Wilshere after the break. When Tomas Rosicky started stripping off on the hour mark, many expected that to be the cue for Wilshere’s exit. In fact, it was the in-form Welshman Aaron Ramsey who departed.
Perhaps Wenger sensed that Wilshere had something of a point to prove. The young midfielder oughtn’t be written off because of one bad half—or one ill-advised cigarette.
Wilshere’s technical quality is often heralded as his strongest attribute, but there is an argument that his greatest strength is his psychology. In recent seasons, Arsenal fans have lamented the absence of competitive spirit in the squad, but Wilshere has that in spades.
He is a winner. He doesn’t know the meaning of giving up. At 21, he is already a leader.
His second half response was fantastic. Not only did he thump in a deflected drive for Arsenal’s crucial equaliser, but he emerged as one of Arsenal’s strongest second-half performers, producing the pass of the game for Olivier Giroud. Sadly, Giroud could not beat Boaz Myhill, but Wilshere had made his point. In the Sky Studio, Redknapp and Carragher looked sheepish.
Write Wilshere off at your peril.
There’s no doubt that he’s in poor form. However, he never hides. His strength of character means he’s always willing to receive the ball. Even when his feet refuse to obey his agile mind, he continues to play without fear.
He’s also suffering from being played out of position. Wilshere is by no means a winger. It was telling that his best contributions to the West Brom game came from a fairly central position. He’s at his best when bursting beyond opponents in to space. His acceleration enables him to help Arsenal in their swift transition from defence to attack.
On the wing, that ability is stifled. The flanks are a claustrophobic environment, and Wilshere tends to be crowded out. He may be a fantastic dribbler, but he is no sprinter, and his off-the-ball movement is not good enough to pull opposition defenders out of position.
Like Aaron Ramsey before him, Wilshere will learn from his spell on the wing. When he is granted a place in the centre, he will return to his favoured spot as a better player.
Wilshere joins up with England now for two crucial World Cup qualifiers. If Roy Hodgson’s side should fail, England’s young messiah will doubtless be crucified.
The media would be wrong to come down too hard on young Wilshere. Form is temporary, but class is permanent. Wilshere has the character and work ethic required to fulfill his potential.
It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.
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