Just a few years ago, Jack Wilshere was the next big thing—not merely in England, but in world football.
But, as the midfielder very quickly discovered, one outstanding season and immense potential can very quickly unravel into a career of frustrations and letdowns.
Immediately after his breakthrough campaign in 2010-11, Wilshere suffered a seemingly minor ankle injury that festered and became a persistent ailment that required multiple surgeries and well over a year of rest to heal.
He has never really recovered from that knock.
Though given the No. 10 by Arsene Wenger after Robin van Persie's departure in 2012, Wilshere only managed to make 33 appearances in all competitions during the 2012-13 season. He can be forgiven for that to some degree, though, because he only returned from injury in October.
But he only made two more appearances last season, and what's more, he was not impressive enough during his time on the pitch that Wenger felt compelled to play him when all his other options were fit.
Yet the manager is not frequently presented with that option because Wilshere is not often fully fit. His frequent absences are not due to a recurrence of his original injury, but rather a pugnacious style of play that compels him to recklessly throw himself into fracases that should be avoided.
These repeated spells on the sidelines have stunted his development. He has not ascended to the dominant level he achieved a few seasons ago.
Instead, Wilshere was simply average to above-average last season. Though he sometimes showed flashes of the brilliance that compelled Wenger to make him the centerpiece of Arsenal's British core, the consistency simply is not there.
Now, the niche he once filled is occupied by Aaron Ramsey, who usurped him at a stunningly quick rate and is now one of the best midfielders in Europe.
There are three fairly well-defined roles in Arsenal's midfield: holder, box-to-box pivot and attacking midfielder. The former is usually Mikel Arteta's purview (although rumor has it that the Gunners are looking to sign someone new, per Metro), Ramsey is the central man and Mesut Ozil is the £42.5 million jewel at the tip of the crown.
Even if Wilshere suddenly finds his form again, where can he even play?
Ramsey and Ozil have their positions on lock, so there is no chance of a player even as obviously talented as Wilshere supplanting them.
The only obvious opening that Arsenal have in midfield is, as we know, in defensive midfield. But Wilshere cannot play there; he's tenacious enough and sufficiently good with the odd tackle to add some defensive grit to midfield, but he is not disciplined enough to do the job full time.
So right now, Arsenal's No. 10—a symbol of the club and one of the most popular players on the payroll—is reduced to filling in for injured players, playing in cup games and rotating in when the usual starters rotate out.
But Wilshere certainly has the talent and the mentality to remain persistent and, potentially, work his way back into the starting XI when the right opportunity comes. The ability is undoubtedly there.
It will be a very interesting subplot to follow this season.
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