After years of injury and fitness questions, Jack Wilshere is rounding into form, and England could be well-served by bringing him to Russia in the summer.
With the groups drawn and preparations underway, the countdown to the 2018 World Cup has begun and 23 seats on England’s plane to Russia are up for grabs. One man who has thrust himself back into contention, is Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere.
Gareth Southgate is yet to select the 26-year-old for any of his squads since taking the reigns as England manager. However, with the Arsenal ace forcing his way back into the starting line-up for his club, it is only a matter of time before he is selected to join the ranks of his country. A fit Wilshere must be given a chance to showcase his worth to the national side.
From the first day he burst onto the footballing scene, Wilshere’s talent has been undeniable. The combination of superb passing ability, great technique and an aggressive playing style has won him many plaudits among the Emirates faithful. He was even hailed by footballing royalty and fellow midfielder, Xavi, as the “future of English football.”
A dazzling midfield display against Xavi, Andres Iniesta and co. in the 2011 UEFA Champions League knockout stages seemed to confirm the hype about Arsenal’s teenage prodigy. Arsène Wenger had, it was thought, unraveled an English gem, ready to step up for his club and country.
However, nearly seven years on from that scintillating night in North London and a plague of long-term injuries has forced a promising career to stall. Brief spells in the team were outnumbered by prolonged lay-offs, that consigned the England international to the fringes of the Arsenal set-up for months at a time.
Although he was selected for England’s disastrous campaign in the 2016 European championships, his time on the pitch was limited to cameo performances. The ill-fated round-of-16 tie against Iceland saw him feature in the second-half to no avail. He has remained in the cold ever since and has been overlooked for selection by Gareth Southgate.
On the domestic front, the picture was just as bleak. An uninspiring loan spell at Bournemouth seemed to signal the death-knell of Wilshere’s Arsenal career. Returning to his boyhood club with yet another long-term injury, the patience of his mentor seemed to have worn thin and the likes of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey were preferred.
Although he was forced to prove his worth in Arsenal’s secondary competitions, like the Europa League and the Carabao Cup, he soon won back the adoration of the Arsenal fans. Returning to Premier League action at Goodison Park, in a 5-2 win in October, it seemed ‘Super Jack’ was back and raring to go. Since then, due to the circumstances of a fixture pile-up and an injury to Aaron Ramsey, Wilshere regained his starting place in the first team and has consistently impressed in midfield.
Southgate’s men crave the creativity offered by the dynamism of Wilshere in central midfield. His ability to carry the ball and to pick crucial passes will enable England to unlock defenses and to get the likes of Harry Kane into positions to affect the game. Such skills are instinctive and it would be a shame to leave such talent at home, in football’s most prestigious competition.
Although England once boasted a midfield of Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes, the current crop of internationals are not blessed with an abundance of midfield options. Dele Ali is nailed on to be in the starting XI, but he is more suited to the CAM role where he can influence the game in the final third. His Spurs teammate, Eric Dier, will also be a certainty in defensive midfield, to protect England’s back four (or five).
However, the likes of Jordan Henderson, Jake Livermore, Harry Winks, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jack Cork will be left to contest the other spots. Henderson will be on the plane for his consistency and leadership, but his ability falls well short of Wilshere. Loftus-Cheek was impressive in England’s most recent friendlies, but the verdict is still out as to whether he can perform in a major tournament. The others are unproven and - frankly - uninspiring.
In terms of ability, Wilshere is head and shoulders above England’s remaining midfield options. If he can prove his fitness and maintain a starting spot for Arsenal, he simply must go to Russia. His injury record will make him a gamble, but his talent renders him a gamble worth taking. In his 34 international caps to date, he has shown many glimpses of brilliance and Gareth Southgate needs to be bold to give the Three Lions the best possible chance of success.
Wilshere is no longer the Arsenal wonder-kid who went toe-to-toe with Xavi and Iniesta as a teenager. His potential has clearly not been fulfilled. However, he is one of England’s most talented footballers, and with central midfield options severely lacking, he has what it takes to be a linchpin in England’s midfield.
If he maintains a starting berth for Arsenal and continues to play regular Premier League football, Wilshere must occupy a key role in Southgate’s plans for Russia 2018.