The 20-year-old suffered an initial ankle injury in a friendly against New York Red Bulls last August and, after a string of aggravations and setbacks, underwent surgery on the ankle, and then on his knee as well.
Wilshere broke into the Arsenal first team in the 2010/11 season, after impressing on his loan spell at Bolton Wanderers. His obvious natural ability, and maturity, earned him a place in Arsenal’s midfield, playing behind former captain Cesc Fabregas.
The youngster continued to improve, developing in front of the watching world. The pressure seemed to sit effortlessly on his shoulders – his dominant performance against Barcelona pointed to the tremendous potential of the young player.
Inevitably, having been a regular in the England U21 setup, he was called up to earn his first senior cap for England. Since 2006 Wilshere has played in the group two years ahead of his actual age, for the national team.
He was in the U16’s at just 14, the U17’s at 15, and the U21’s by 18, so it came as no surprise when he was named in the senior squad that faced Hungary in a friendly back in August 2010.
Interestingly, Wilshere came on in the 83rd minute of that game – as a substitute for Steven Gerrard, now England captain.
The Arsenal player has been compared to his compatriot both in the style and dominance of his play.
Wilshere has exceptional technical ability with the ball at his feet – although of slim build, he’s nimble and his agility means he is often fouled as he wriggles free from his marker.
His passing is comparable to his former mentor Fabregas – not only in the accuracy but also in his vision – he is a creative player with the ability to think four or five passes ahead of the game. His time spent playing behind Fabregas surely paid dividends to his development as he watched and learned from the Spanish World Cup winner.
His movement off the ball could be described as Scholes-esc – always finding space to receive the ball, before switching the play, pivoting between the flanks and the back line. He has yet to fully develop his ability to both provide that clinical final ball and, on his own finishing, there is work to be done. But at such a young age, time is on his side, despite spending more than a year out of the game.
Long injury spells can take their toll on players mentally, as much as they do physically but Arsene Wenger believes the time out may prove to be character building:
“He’s mentally a strong boy, he has always had a good level of confidence. I believe what he has gone through will make him even stronger.”
With no date set for his return, it is safe to assume that Wenger will ease him back gently, and with maximum caution but that won’t stop Gunners fans’ excitement, as they eagerly await the full return of their brightest young star.
Once fit Wilshere will be playing alongside a completely different midfield to the one he played with against the Red Bulls. Recent additions Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta have yet to play with the Englishman – the latter has commented on what Wilshere’s return means to the players:
“It’s going to be a big boost for everyone, starting with us players because he’s going to raise the quality in training. He’s going to bring something to the squad and more quality to the team. That can only be good for everyone.”
image: © Ronnie Macdonald