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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Wilshere lights up Wembley with sparkling show as Wenger predicts this 'could be his year'

Jeremy Wilson

Published 11/08/2014 | 02:30

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Arsenal's Jack Wilshere shields the ball away from Yaya Toure of Manchester City during the FA Community Shield tie at Wembley. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere shields the ball away from Yaya Toure of Manchester City during the FA Community Shield tie at Wembley. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The first instinct yesterday might have been to attribute the added authority in Arsenal's football to the arrival of Alexis Sanchez, but it was actually a rather more familiar face who provided the decisive contribution.

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Jack Wilshere has attracted many labels since first walking through the gates of Arsenal at the age of nine – from the most gifted English midfielder since Paul Gascoigne to the biggest potential waste of that talent since, well, Gascoigne – but rarely has the criticism been more pointed than the past six months.

Paul Scholes came forward first, arguing that the 22-year-old "does not look any better a player now than when he was 17".

Then it was the turn of Tony Adams: "He must show more hunger and professionalism," said the former Arsenal captain.

Adams then noted the £42.5m arrival last summer of Mesut Ozil: "Had they bought a German centre-half in my playing days I'd have wanted to prove I'm head and shoulders better," he said.

STRESSED

Even Arsene Wenger, who would never publicly criticise a player, has specifically stressed that this is a "very important" year for his midfielder.

Wilshere responded yesterday like a man who has absorbed all the messages.

His regression during the past two seasons has boiled down to a lack of sharpness.

He has dwelled just too long on the ball and seemed to have lost that crucial acceleration in the first few metres that once allowed him to sprint away from opponents.

To see him struggling to impose himself in the most important matches last season against Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton and Chelsea was to see a player almost unrecognisable from when Arsenal played Barcelona in 2011.

In a team performance that Wenger regards as the best of his 18 years as manager, a 19-year-old Wilshere was inspired as Arsenal ran out 2-1 winners.

His passing was sharp and incisive, he was powerful in the challenge but, most crucially, he had the sudden acceleration to sprint away from opponents and drive Arsenal forward.

Against a Barcelona midfield that contained Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets at their absolute peak, Wilshere was among equals that night.

With the obvious caveats of this being only the Community Shield and the paucity of Manchester City's performance, there were clear signs yesterday of the old Wilshere.

He was releasing the ball quickly and, more than anyone else on the pitch, dictating the match's tempo.

Wilshere's presence yesterday also added to Arsenal's goal threat. He was involved in a slick early move that ended with Yaya Sanogo dragging a shot wide, before showing wonderful vision to release Sanchez who, in turn, passed for Sanogo to provide the assist for Aaron Ramsey's second.

Wilshere had dominated Yaya Toure and, with Wenger seemingly substituting his players in order of importance, it was interesting that he should come off after only Sánchez and Laurent Koscielny.

The lingering question, of course, is whether this will be another false dawn.

Has Wilshere really taken strength from the criticism and is he now fully recovered – physically and mentally – from all his injuries? He certainly never hides and always talks a good game.

Wenger has always attributed the stall in Wilshere's career to injuries and, while it is true that he has suffered some terrible luck, there is considerable debate among sports scientists about the relationship between lifestyle and recovery.

Wilshere, who has twice been photographed out smoking, has not always provided maximum reassurance on that front.

What has felt significant, however, is the noises that have been coming out of Arsenal this summer. Wenger has repeatedly noted how Wilshere is now completely free of any ankle problems and how he has enjoyed a full pre-season for the first time since 2010.

An in-form Wilshere would certainly provide a different dimension to Arsenal's team. He started yesterday alongside Mikel Arteta and Ramsey in a central position and, while that is how Arsenal will probably line-up against Crystal Palace on Saturday, Ozil will soon have to be accommodated.

Wenger gave serious consideration to adding a central midfielder earlier in the transfer window but all the indications now are that he does not regard that position as a priority.

That is probably explained by Wilshere's form. "He prepares well – it could be his year," said Wenger.

Should that happen, and with Sanchez, Ramsey and Ozil around him, it could also be Arsenal's year. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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