Jack Wilshere’s starring performance against BATE Borisov has got Arsenal buzzing, with press and fans alike waxing lyrical about his dazzling display. That’s perhaps not particularly surprising: after all, everybody loves a comeback story.
It would be quite extraordinary if Wilshere could regain his former powers after so long in the shadows. There were signs of the old magic returning against BATE.
Yes, the calibre of opponent wasn’t great, but that didn’t influence the quality of his touch or the weight of his pass. Those were both outstanding, and those ingenious touches had Arsenal fans drooling. A fit Wilshere would provide a practical boost to Arsene Wenger’s options. However, his renewed availability is not just a squad size issue—it’s a sentimental one too.
It might seem odd for a player who is only 25 to produce feelings of nostalgia.
However, Wilshere is already a relic of happier times at Arsenal. He was the bright young hope of the Emirates Stadium era, a player who promised to lead a new generation of Arsenal talent. He emerged at a time when Arsenal promised to become a major continental force—and he seemingly had the talent to match that ambition.
It appeared inevitable that he would be a cornerstone of the Arsenal team for years to come. English football’s greatest teams have tended to have academy products at their core—look at United’s treble-winning side of 1999, or even the Chelsea teams led to success by John Terry. Arsenal had the honour of being captained by the homegrown Tony Adams, who lifted four league titles in his one-club career.
"He's on his way back to his best."
Jack Wilshere "outstanding" in @Arsenal's win at BATE Borisov, says Wenger
— Sky Sports PL 👑 (@SkySportsPL) September 29, 2017
There’s another crucial point: Wilshere is an Arsenal man.
Gunners fans may profess to find Tottenham’s boasts that Harry Kane is “one of [their] own” tiresome, but deep down they must yearn to feel a similar affinity for one of their first-team stars.
That’s what made Wilshere’s initial emergence so special. When he shone against the Barcelona midfield back in 2011, he was the living embodiment of an entire Arsenal football philosophy.
After years of hearing the Catalan club try to lure Cesc Fabregas with talk of his “Barca DNA”, Wilshere showed the world what Arsenal DNA looked like. He was Arsenal made incarnate, and the fans adored him for it.
It’s for that reason that they’ve never quite been able to let go of Wilshere. Even when injury followed injury, even when the player insisted on a loan move away, Arsenal fans have never quite been able to relinquish their hope that the prodigal son might return to his former glory.
Let’s be clear: that has not happened yet. Wilshere has a long way to go before he can be deemed truly rehabilitated. His performance against BATE was promising, but he needs to maintain form and fitness for a period of months before this can be seen as anything other than a flicker of potential.
However, there is precedent at Arsenal for players overcoming serious injury problems to produce their best. The early period of Robin van Persie’s career was littered with physical issues that seriously impeded his progress. It was only in the 2008/09 season that he got free of those shackles and finally put together a 20-goal season. His age then? 25 – the same as Wilshere’s now.
Few things would delight Arsenal more. Yes, everybody loves a comeback story—but in the case of Wilshere, there’s far more to it than that.