By George Ogier
With less than a week to go until the new Premier League season kicks off we are deep in to preview territory. Speculation as to how the season will unfold is rife as everyone rushes to make predictions. Some will be looking at a wider picture of the league and others will be searching for fantasy football gold. Either way, opinions are everywhere.
Many clubs have made wholesale changes ahead of the new term but at Arsenal they’re playing a familiar tune. Fans want big name transfers and so far all they’ve got is a youth international from France. However, a quick trawl through newspapers and websites shows that one name appears to make or break Arsenal’s season. Jack Wilshere.
There is an almost mythic quality to the tales of what Jack Wilshere will add to an Arsenal side. He missed the entire 2011/12 season through injury and was only a sporadic team member last term. Despite that, Wilshere has attained a reputation as someone holding the fortunes of the club in his rather young hands.
In recent times Arsenal Football Club have had in their ranks some of modern football’s greatest midfielders. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Cesc Fabregas have all been integral to the way Arsenal play. It is a testament to the abilities of 21 year-old Wilshere that fans at the Emirates appear to hold the boy from Hitchin in similarly high regard.
There are just four days until Arsenal’s campaign begins at home to Aston Villa. The season hasn’t even begun and already Arsene Wenger is speaking of keep Jack Wilshere “wrapped in cotton wool”. It must be incredibly frustrating for everyone connected with the club that a player so talented seems so fragile, a talismanic figure laid low by perpetual injury.
There is a danger that Jack Wilshere risks turning into something of an excuse for Arsenal. Surely the club is simply a victim of circumstance without their best player. A quick glance up the Seven Sisters Road provides a quick exercise in “could have, would have, should have”. In Ledley King, Spurs fans have the ultimate caveat for the struggles of seasons gone by. “If Ledley had remained fit we’d have been a different team”. Is Jack Wilshere becoming the “King” of The Emirates?
In terms of footballing ability, Ledley King is many people’s pick for the most talented English centre back of his generation. Similarly, people have rushed to anoint Wilshere as the next truly world-class midfielder and the parallels between the two men don’t stop there.
Both King and Wilshere came through the youth teams at their respective clubs and each man was the heir to a throne vacated by a departing hero. In the case of Ledley he replaced Sol Campbell at Spurs when Campbell joined, ironically, Arsenal. It was Jack Wilshere’s lot in life to replace Arsenal club captain, Cesc Fabregas.
When talking about Ledley King two things generally stand out. Firstly the 2006 testament from Thierry Henry –
“I don’t like defenders who hold the shirts of other players. The only defender here who doesn’t do that and sometimes still gets the ball off my feet easily is Ledley King. He is the only guy who doesn’t hold players. He will get the ball off you without you even noticing. For me, that is a good defender. He plays without any contact yet is somehow still strong and gets the ball without doing any fouls.”
Secondly there is that tackle on Arjen Robben –
In the same vein, Jack Wilshere already has a career-defining moment to his name. In February 2011 Arsenal beat Barcelona 2-1. It was at the height of the Catalan giant’s powers and Wilshere bossed a midfield including Xavi and Iniesta. People were mentioning Jack in the same breath as the Pauls, Scholes and Gascoigne. Wilshere was to be the saviour of the England national side.
That game should have been a launchpad for a glittering career. Sadly, it appears that the stellar showing against Messi and co. is turning into a tale of “what might have been”. It was more than two and a half years ago now and Wilshere hasn’t played a full season since.
Spurs fans like to hold Ledley King up as bastion of one club integrity and loyalty and Wilshere is making similar noises about remaining at Arsenal. Make no mistake about it though, had King stayed fit he eventually would have left Spurs. A fully fit and reliable Jack Wilshire would be hard to keep at The Emirates.
We have seen it unfold time and again with the likes of Berbatov, Van Persie, Modric and Fabregas. The true super powers of football make it almost impossible to resist and North London are getting left behind in football’s arms race. It is easy for the likes of King and Wilshere to publicly devote themselves to one club. There simply aren’t alternatives when you spend more time in the treatment room than on the pitch.
There is every chance that Wilshere might well overcome these injury troubles and go on to have a long and illustrious time in football. As it stands though he is fast becoming a crutch for Wenger and Arsenal supporters to lean upon. As a Spurs fan I maintain that Tottenham Hotspur spent too long getting hung up on the possibility of Ledley King rather than the reality. With Jack Wilshere there is a danger that Arsenal are going the same way.