Should Jack Wilshere return to the Arsenal squad this weekend, he must produce a performance to quieten his critics and ensure the focus remains on his football rather than his lifestyle.
Wilshere returned to full training this week, but a specific comeback date has not been named. Speaking before Arsenal’s match with Leicester City, reported by BBC Sport, Arsene Wenger said: “We have to monitor [Wilshere] daily. I don’t know when he’ll return.”
However, according to Tony Banks of the Express, Wilshere could be in line for an appearance against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Perhaps his rehabilitation has been accelerated by the latest injury sustained by Aaron Ramsey. It’s the third hamstring problem of Ramsey’s stop-start season, and with Mikel Arteta still in the early stages of recovery following his ankle operation, Arsenal are light in the middle of the park.
Football moves swiftly. A week ago, it was difficult to envisage how Wilshere could fit back into the Arsenal side. With Ramsey out, his presence becomes essential.
Whenever he eventually takes to the field, Wilshere will find himself with plenty to prove. His latest smoking controversy has been blown a little out of proportion, but those small indiscretions are beginning to mount up. For the first time, doubts are being raised about Wilshere’s attitude and application outside the training pitch.
Those questions would not be asked if his performances were up to scratch, but the simple fact is Wilshere has not yet delivered on his enormous potential; his performances this season have been patchy at best.
There has been some evidence of his ability to influence games from the centre of the park, such as his Man of the Match showing against Manchester City in September. However, he has struggled to reproduce that sort of form on a consistent basis.
There are mitigating circumstances for that, though. As long as Wilshere is subject to such regular injuries, he will struggle to find consistency. His fitness problems have psychological as well as physiological ramifications.
He’s also yet to nail down a position in the Arsenal team. Debate continues to rage as to Wilshere’s ideal role, with suggestions ranging from playing just off the striker to deployment as a deep-lying holding midfielder.
The solution, in the short term at least, is probably to compromise. Ramsey is a box-to-box midfielder, lending support to Francis Coquelin when necessary but with a license to get forward and play off Olivier Giroud. Wilshere is likely to be tasked with replicating that dynamic style in the Welshman’s absence.
This season, neither Ramsey nor Wilshere has fully convinced as the fulcrum of the Arsenal midfield. There is an opportunity now for the Englishman to stake his claim for a regular place in Wenger’s first-choice XI and silence his critics in the process.