Is Jack Wilshere's time at Arsenal finally coming to an end?
Jack Wilshere was once the future “it boy” of both Arsenal and all of English football. It feels weird to say about a 24-year-old, but it seems like his potential to be one of the Premier League’s best has already passed him by. Now on loan at Bournemouth, is his time at the Emirates over after several injury-plagued years?
Wilshere came through Arsenal’s youth academy before being given a first-team opportunity at the tender age of 16. He was the youngest ever to do so. For the next season or so, he made sporadic appearances in the Arsenal lineup until he finally broke through during the 2010-11 season.
That year, the midfielder had 49 total appearances—35 in the Premier League—and made his first appearances for England’s national team, all at just 19 years old. The then-England manager Fabio Capello even proclaimed that “Wilshere is the best young midfielder that [he has] seen for his age.” Everything seemed to be trending upwards for Wilshere: a starting role for one of Europe’s best and most famous clubs and an important piece for the next decade or more for the Three Lions.
But then the injuries started coming. Wilshere missed the entire 2011-12 season, including both the Summer Olympics and UEFA Euro 2012, with a stress fracture ankle injury. Suddenly, one of the most promising young football players had missed an entire year of development.
Wilshere was able to get back on the pitch for the next two seasons, in which he performed well. However, because of a variety of ailments (primarily to his ankle and fibula), he has just 27 appearances for Arsenal in the past three years. It’s difficult to get an idea of a player’s progression and future when he plays so few times.
Wilshere’s time with the England national team, too, has been affected. Many thought he would lead a new generation of English talent, taking guys like Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge with him to greater heights. Instead, this past summer at Euro 2016 in France, he—and the whole English squad for that matter—woefully underperformed and were ousted early on. He looked rusty after months of not playing and had no influence on the team, a far cry from the prediction Capello had years ago.
Now we come to this season: The midfield is loaded at Arsenal with Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, new signing Granit Xhaka and others all competing for two or three spots. Maybe that competition would embolden Wilshere to work even harder for a spot.
Arsenal supporters didn’t get to see much of that, as the young midfielder was loaned out to Bournemouth after two mediocre performances (just a 6.40 rating). He didn’t start in either match and only saw the pitch for 37 minutes, but Arsène Wenger had seen enough to know Wilshere didn’t have a place in this season’s squad.
But he hasn’t changed Bournemouth’s fortunes much. The club is 2-1-1 with him in the lineup yet, in a matchup against Manchester City’s vaunted midfield, he completely wilted in a 4-0 drubbing. His player rating sits at a mediocre 6.40. While not awful by any means, it’s not what Wenger and the Gunners hoped for when he was loaned out. He was meant to be the best player, enlivening the midfield and creating more opportunities for a mid-table club. Instead, he just looks like a normal piece for an average club.
Signs are pointing to the idea that Wilshere has played his last match in a Gunner uniform, partly due to the notoriously loyal Wenger already having loaned him out. Wenger has been devoted to so many of his players—just look at Theo Walcott’s resurgence this season and the continued push for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to make something of his talent—but the writing might be on the wall for Wilshere, especially combined with Arsenal’s newfound midfield strength.
Wilshere is nonetheless 24 years old after all this. He’s tremendously gifted and has had several moments of brilliance throughout his young career. He probably won’t ever reach the expectations lofted onto him in his teens, but he can still be a major contributor on a solid club. It just might not be at Arsenal.