It seemed a cruel twist of fate for Arsenal fans that in 2011/12, the consistently injury-prone Robin van Persie managed to stay fit while Jack Wilshere, potentially the future of the club’s midfield, remained on the sidelines due to surgery on a troublesome ankle. As the Dutchman was banging in the goals, the affable lad from Hertfordshire was sitting at home watching Countdown and cursing his bad luck.
A lot has changed in the last month for both players. Van Persie decided to leave for pastures new, thanks to a bid of £24M from Manchester United, while Wilshere has edged himself closer to a return to first-team football. And amid all the hullabaloo of the controversial transfer, Arsenal underlined their faith in the Englishman by giving him Van Persie’s old number ten shirt. While it doesn’t have quite the same legendary status of the number seven at Manchester United, it was once worn by Dennis Bergkamp.
The imminent return of Wilshere will effectively give the Gunners a new signing and with the regularly-crocked Abou Diaby already back in play it promises to be an interesting few weeks for the North London club. If Wilshere can manage to recover his pre-injury form, manager Arsene Wenger will finally have the midfield selection headache that he has always wanted. Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Andrei Arshavin and the so-far sensational Santi Cazorla will all be reluctant to lose their places in the first-team pecking order.
In the Premier League, it is amazing just how much difference one win can make. The 2-0 victory at Liverpool on 2nd September represented so much more than three points for Arsenal. The manner of the game itself, in which Arsenal were by far the better side, will have given Wenger vindication of his recent transfer activities. A third consecutive clean sheet is a signal of solidity that was totally absent at this stage last season and the imperious display from Abou Diaby will perhaps silence the doubts that have been expressed about his ability. Wenger has always said the boy can play, and at Anfield that’s just what he did.
A midfield line-up of Wilshere, Diaby and Arteta, with any two from Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho and perhaps Cazorla will be more than a match for any Premier League engine room, and will give the side a firm base to repel the opposition and to create chances for the likes of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.
It is unlikely that Arsenal’s side, however good the midfield might be, will be able to match the ambitions of Chelsea and Manchester City this season, but the pair have spent money like drunken lottery winners for the past few years. With the acquisition of more and more talented players for the sort of money that other clubs will never be able to spend, it may be a few years before anyone manages to break this cash-generated duopoly.
Back in November, Arsenal-loving Wilshere made a pledge to stay at the club for the rest of his career and while his agent may not have been too impressed by his words, they struck a chord with Gunners fans. In the light of high-profile departures by the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, it was a bold statement to make. His desire for all things red and white must only be applauded, but it is important to remember that a certain Wayne Rooney once made an ‘always a blue’ promise to Everton fans before heading to Manchester.
There are whisperings from within the Emirates that Wilshere will be making a return to first team action in the League Cup against Coventry on 26th September. Whether this proves to be the case remains to be seen, but it is good at least for Arsenal fans to know this mercurial player is coming back soon. England supporters will be happy to see him wearing the Three Lions once again, and if all goes well he could make his international comeback against San Marino on 12th October.
As is the case with all players who return from a long-term injury, there is a tendency to wrap him in cotton wool, but the truth is every footballer will have to face a hard tackle or two in any match. The powers that be at Arsenal and the English Football Association will no doubt be wincing when the first crunch comes in, but that’s the nature of the game. Welcome back, Jack.