At the present time, Aaron Ramsey’s performances make him far more crucial to Arsenal’s hopes than Jack Wilshere. However, the England international will hope he can follow Ramsey’s career trajectory and become just as important to his beloved Gunners.
A couple of years ago, almost everyone would have picked Wilshere over Ramsey. That’s not just because of the fact he inspires augmented affection by virtue of being truly home-grown: Originally from Stevenage, Wilshere has been with the club since the age of nine. When he made his debut at 16, his precocious talent was immediately obvious. His first few appearances came on the right flank, where his dazzling displays cutting in on his left foot saw him dubbed "The English Messi."
The comparisons didn’t end there. As Wilshere settled in to a central-midfield role, he became regarded as the dual successor to Cesc Fabregas and Paul Gascoigne respectively, depending on whether he was wearing an Arsenal or England shirt.
However, Wilshere has yet to deliver upon that undoubted talent. The primary barrier to progress has been a succession of serious injuries, notably the recurrent ankle problem that kept him on the sidelines for as many as 18 months.
Ramsey also had to endure a long absence after suffering a broken leg at the hands of Ryan Shawcross. However, there is a feeling that an impact injury such as that suffered by the Welshman is easier to fix than a chronic problem such as Wilshere’s.
Nevertheless, it took Ramsey some time to get back to his best. His rehabilitation was psychological as much as physiological. For a prolonged period, he was out of position and equally out of sorts. Fielded on the flanks, he struggled to make the expected impact. However, a return to his preferred central position midway through 2012/13 saw Ramsey’s progress accelerate. By the time 2013/14 rolled around, he was a player reborn.
While Wilshere is currently failing to pull off passes and tricks we saw him manage with ease as a teenager, Ramsey is producing feats of skill we didn’t know he was capable of. One player is performing below expectations; the other is constantly exceeding and rewriting preconceptions of his own ability.
Few fans could have anticipated Ramsey’s dramatic rise, but those who were exposed to his excellence in training won’t be too surprised. When he left Arsenal for Barcelona in 2011, Cesc Fabregas told The Guardian:
There is not even a question [over whether or not Arsenal's midfield is in good hands]. I have seen them play for years, both Aaron and Jack. Jack will be the England captain in the next two or three years, there is no doubt. You don't have to be a magician to see that. He has the passing game and he will be an even better player in the future. There is not even a question in my mind about that. As for Aaron, his engine is unbelievable, his final ball will get better and he will be the next big star at Arsenal.
At the present time, there’s no doubt that Ramsey’s star is shining brighter than Wilshere’s. What’s more, the Welshman isn’t likely to shy away from the limelight any time soon. Given the fact that four months on the treatment table doesn’t seem to have interrupted his development, it’s safe to say that his outstanding 2013/14 was far more than just a purple patch.
However, Wilshere will hope his 2014/15 could see him rival Ramsey. Their paths have been eerily similar. Wilshere is currently enduring a spell of indifferent form as he recovers from a lengthy lay-off, cropping up in a variety of different positions rather than earning a sustained run in the centre.
Consistent deployment could help Wilshere find consistent form, and thus begin to climb the ladder that Ramsey has already scaled. The biggest issue here will be getting that chance: Ramsey and Wilshere are in direct competition for the same position. With the Welshman in such imperious form, it’s unlikely Wilshere will be granted the chance to prove himself over a lengthy period.
Ramsey’s present brilliance could be precisely what hinders Wilshere’s future development.