Jack Wilshere: Arsenal Midfielder Faces Defining Season

Callum Mackenzie@callumlarrContributor IIIJuly 28, 2014

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 26:  Jack Wilshere #10 of Arsenal fights for the ball with Ambroise Oyongo #3 and Tim Cahill #17 of New York Red Bulls during their friendly match at Red Bull Arena on July 26, 2014 in Harrison, NJ. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The vast majority of preseason news surrounding Arsenal Football Club has come in the form of transfer announcements and speculation over further additions to Arsene Wenger's squad. But how does this affect incumbent Gunners, like Jack Wilshere?

After 2011/12 and 2012/13 campaigns that were derailed by injuries, and last season which was marred by further visits to the treatment room that contributed to chronic struggles for form and consistency, Wilshere faces an uphill struggle to stand out on this Arsenal squad that is being improved by transfer augmentations seemingly on a weekly basis.

Last campaign was supposed to be the one where he found his full potential: the chapter in the Jack Wilshere story where he followed the immense promise he showed in his breakthrough season of 2010/11 by building on those foundations to stand out from an already stacked midfield corps.

Instead, it was Aaron Ramsey, the other young Briton in Wenger's midfield, who showcased his indelible talents and set the benchmark for British midfielders in the Premier League.  With Wilshere struggling for fitness as well as form, he didn't have a memorable season—apart from scoring that goal.

If breaking back into the starting XI wasn't a daunting enough prospect for Wilshere before the World Cup, the endless conjecture regarding a specialist midfield addition for Arsenal piles on additional worries for the Englishman.

B/R's own Tom Sunderland opined on the recent developments in Wenger's search for another midfielder, and the veritable smorgasbord of potential recruits—including Sami Khedira, Morgan Schneiderlin, William Carvalho and Douglas Costa—should have Wilshere quaking.

The reality is, on current form, Wilshere might not get into Wenger's starting XI.  He hasn't really nailed down a particular role in Le Professeur's role and defined it as his own in the vein of some of his colleagues.

For example, Mesut Ozil is Arsenal's No. 10—the advanced central midfielder who collects the ball from deep and brings his colleagues into the fray with incisive passes and intelligent movements that confound opponents.

When fit, Theo Walcott occupies the right wing like no one else: His blistering pace coupled with his ability to cut past defenders and finish with ease and grace make him the obvious choice to start in that role (at least before Alexis Sanchez arrived).

Wilshere has to get his development back on track this season to show he's truly at Aaron Ramsey's level.
Wilshere has to get his development back on track this season to show he's truly at Aaron Ramsey's level.Steve Bardens/Getty Images

With Wilshere, it's not that clear cut.  He can play a number of different roles for Wenger—indeed, his versatility could be regarded as one of his finer facets—but being a jack-of-all-trades often has a trade off: being the master of none.  He doesn't slot in precisely into Arsenal's midfield yet.

Additionally, time might not be exactly on Wilshere's side, despite being only 22.  With every season that passes, the excuse "he's still young" becomes less relevant.  Wilshere is running out of time to prove himself as the prodigious talent he declared himself as in that astonishing 2010/11 campaign, highlighted by performances on the biggest stage.

It's clear to many that on his day, he's perhaps the brightest English midfield prospect in football.  Yet going into the new season, he'll have to measure up not only to his colleagues, but rivals for a place in the national side as well.

To put that into perspective, via Squawka, Wilshere recorded fewer assists, fewer tackles won and more defensive errors than not only Ramsey, but England and Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson too.  He did, however, record an excellent 86 per cent pass completion rate throughout the Premier League season, as well as more than two successful take-ons per game than the other pair, showcasing his marauding and adventurous dribbling capabilities.

As such, it's clear that this season he needs to contribute on the pitch and eclipse the levels of statistics shown by the other two young midfielders if he's going to win over his doubters.

So what does this all add up to prove?

Wilshere is still only 22, and this level of scrutiny into each element of his game is purely resultant of the immense potential he has showcased so far in his relatively young career.

Yet with the positive evolution of Arsenal's squad, underlined by the additions of quality as well as depth in all areas of the squad through transfer dealings, Wilshere's challenge to get into the starting 11 on a regular basis will be colossal.

He's told James Olley of The Evening Standard that he hopes to be Arsenal's captain of the future—and if he's going to earn those laurels, his journey begins this year by forcing his way back into the forefront of Arsenal's midfield.

What do you make of Jack Wilshere's prospects for this season? Leave me a comment below, or follow me on Twitter to begin the discussion.


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