Ask any fan about Jack Wilshere and they instantly warm to the theme, which shows the type of genuine affection reserved for players they regard to be one of their own. Three words normally enter any such conversation about Jack and that rarely changes even now.
Talent:- It’s always mentioned how talented he was and much was made of his future at the club and international level. He had the class in his boots and could deliver a punishing ball into the feet of a striker. He had an exquisite vision, some players are born with it, it’s part of their DNA.
Passion:- Fans always appreciated his commitment and fiery temperament. Despite his reasonably short frame (1.72m), Jack Wilshere was a battler for the side, going in hard to rescue a ball, showing great tenacity, even if it was to his own detriment.
And lastly and most regrettably, the fans mention the injuries. Injuries which ripped apart his Arsenal career and deprived the England side of a naturally gifted playmaker. He would never get the chance to realise all his talents and gifts because his body regularly broke down and disrupted any momentum that he sometimes managed to achieve.
His 17-year career at Arsenal was a fairly stop-start-stop affair, which was as frustrating for the player as it was for the fans. He notched up 198 games in 10 seasons in all competitions, but rarely played more than 20 games per season and more importantly, he only played around 11 or 12 in each of the league campaigns on average.
Injuries have seen him absent for 1028 days, missing 148 games. These figures don’t include his recent injuries for West Ham, which come to a disappointing 412 days and 61 games thus far. With those sorts of stats, it’s easy to forget the good times and the things that fans worshipped him for.
His best performance was surely against the mighty Barcelona in 2011, in the first leg of the Champions League last 16. At the time, he was just 19 years of age and it looked as if we were witnessing the arrival of the new Paul Gascoigne, as he bossed the Barcelona midfield and ran rings around three of the biggest names on the planet, Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta.
Pep Guardiola, Barcelona coach at the time, said after the game:
“He (Wilshere) is a great player – a great player for Arsenal”
That didn’t sound like much of a compliment to me, but when someone like Guardiola mentions a player, it’s normally accepted that they are better than the praise they are receiving. It’s a muted or modest approval, like grudgingly clapping in fur gloves.
Yet, Jack Wilshere has also divided opinion at times and Roy Keane said of him after the Gunners’ 2-1 defeat to Ostersund in the UEFA Europa League in 2018:
“The manager summed it up. No energy, no desire, you’re looking for your senior players to lead by example.”
“I always think, when Wilshere’s your captain, to me, probably the most overrated player on the planet.”
Those that witnessed his goal against Norwich (2013) will disagree with that assessment. That particular goal against Norwich is still spoken about as a work of art, crafted between himself, the brilliant Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud. It is also considered by supporters as the best team goal in Arsenal’s history, pure simplicity, and a fantastic advert for Wenger’s one-touch football philosophy.
His blistering strike against WBA (2015) showed how good he could be. He was full of clever, inventive little touches, but he could also strike a ball sweetly and the volley left his foot like a missile to stretch the net to its full capacity.
Wilshere offered much but due to injuries, he only delivered on occasion, he was as good as Fabregas and Cazorla on his day, but there simply weren’t enough of them. The fact that I am cherry-picking from his 17 years as a Gunner shows that Jack Wilshere failed to achieve the heights his talent deserved.
I, like many, was devastated that his career at the club was over but I knew it was coming, it was obvious. The club had supported him and been extremely patient but that patience ran dry and the arrival of Unai Emery at the club virtually guaranteed his departure to West Ham.
Arsenal as a club could now blame it all on the new guy and offload those that didn’t supposedly fit their plans. It was a sad end to his career, a whimper instead of a bang and a tragic way to see such promise disappear.
Yet, it seems the decision was justified because his move to West Ham has also been blighted by injuries and as he approaches his twilight years, we will surely see him slip out of the Premier League within a few seasons to a club that he is too good for, despite his fragility.
He is the personification of the saying ‘once a Gooner, always a Gooner.’ In response, no matter what happened, many of us would say ‘Once a Jack fan always a Jack fan !’