And so it ends. After 17 years at Arsenal, Jack Wilshere is off to pastures new.
In truth, it’s been something of a long goodbye for a player who in recent seasons has divided opinion among the Gunners’ fanbase as to his true ability. His loyalty to the club and determination to succeed at the Emirates have never been questioned, but for many Arsenal supporters there has long been a sneaking suspicion that injury and a more general stagnation have put paid to notions of Wilshere as an elite central midfielder.
It’s not as if Wilshere wasn’t given plenty of time to prove his bona fides. Arsène Wenger persisted with him year after year, unwilling to give up on the dream of Jack at the epicentre of the now-mythical ‘British core’. Thanks to his gurning, growling persona and an equally abrasive playing style that set him out from several similarly gifted academy graduates, supporters afforded him more leeway than they might have done with someone not born a few miles down the road.
It helped that he was a prototype ‘modern English player’ – swaggering and hard-running, yet with a technique that held up to scrutiny. But that technical ability never really seemed to develop to the extent that he truly looked to be on the level as Arsenal’s more precocious talents. His passing range, despite the occasional slideruler, is limited in comparison to the likes of Mesut Ozil, Granit Xhaka and, recently, another academy graduate, Alex Iwobi.
He could also be frustratingly slow when plotting his next move with the ball at his feet. ‘Caught in possession’ became a staple follow-up for commentators mentioning the name Wilshere. The Emirates, meanwhile, grew weary of constantly screaming ‘man on’ at him, yet forgave him this ponderousness the moment he scythed down an opponent or roared into the face of a referee.
Since the days of Vieira and Petit, it’s not often that Arsenal have had players as open to on-pitch conflict. Wilshere never shirked, and for that he was adored. But while it’s all very well being an aggressive and physical player, if your body can’t back up your spirit, spending most of the time in the physio’s room is an inevitability. Gradually, the knocks wore him down, perhaps accounting for his failure to step up to the next level.
Eventually, even Wenger seemed to give up on him, rarely deeming him worthy of a starting slot in 2017/18, even when the Englishman was (apparently) fit. He couldn’t get into an England squad that looks devoid of central creativity, and it’s a mark of how far his stock had declined that there was little shock at the announcement of his departure. Maybe, for some, it was a relief.
All that being said, Wilshere is hardly a veteran. At 26, he may well go on to become the footballer that many thought he would be when he burst onto the Premier League scene a decade ago. Equally, the remainder of his career may well be a justification of newly appointed Arsenal manager Unai Emery’s decision to pursue other options.
Plainly, Emery doesn’t think much of Wilshere as a player.
He wasted little time in making that apparent. Wilshexit, as literally no-one is calling it, has the appearance of a real powerplay by Emery, one which will earn him almost immediate respect among both players and fans. The Spaniard’s ambition is now abundantly clear.
For the scorned Jack, however, the moment is here to move on and search for a club with, perhaps, lower aspirations. Being a big fish in a medium-sized pond may suit him well.