Sunday 25 August 2019

Wilshere gets an early opportunity to prove Emery wrong

Jack Wilshere joined West Ham in the summer. Photo: Nigel French/PA
Jack Wilshere joined West Ham in the summer. Photo: Nigel French/PA

Luke Brown

Fifteen minutes. That's how long it took Unai Emery to end Jack Wilshere's 17-year stay at Arsenal earlier this summer, in one of the small red-painted office rooms at the club's London Colney training ground. "Our conversation was very clear," Emery revealed yesterday. "For me, it was important for him to become a protagonist in a new project."

Wilshere's story is - sadly - one of unfulfilled potential. For several reasons, he never came close to replicating the performances he produced with eye-catching regularity during the 2010/'11 season. In particular that apparently career-defining display against Barcelona in the Champions League.

But then came the injuries. A second loan spell away from the club. And the controversies - ranging from smoking in a swimming pool to two police cautions - which you suspect were the result of boredom more than anything else. He started just 13 Premier League games for Arsenal in his last three seasons in north London, before Emery allowed him to leave on a free.

And yet Wilshere's significance to Arsenal extended so far beyond the numbers, which were always middling. He was feted by supporters not necessarily by how he played but for what he represented: the local lad with a fluidity and vision that symbolised the very best of Arsène Wenger's Arsenal teams, who just so happened to hail from down the road in Hitchin and really, really hate Tottenham.

Wilshere was also the beating heart of that glorious, doomed Wenger project to refashion his third great Arsenal side out of little more than raw talent and teenage exuberance, a team thrillingly fit to burst with several outstanding local talents. Emery knows all of this, of course. He is acutely familiar with what Wilshere promised, and what he has come to represent, and why that is important. And he understands how sensitive a subject Wilshere's exit remains, and the importance of picking his words carefully.

Back at Colney, ahead of tomorrow's derby with Wilshere's West Ham, Emery readily answered one question on the subject, tolerated a second and displayed a flash of irritation at the third. "I think we have closed this conversation in this moment," he replied, when asked somewhat impossibly of whether or not he is disappointed not to have Wilshere as an option. "Now I am concentrating on us and our players. I wish him all the best."

Emery's apprehension is understandable. After all, his start at The Emirates has been less than ideal, and defeat to a Wilshere-inspired West Ham tomorrow would undoubtedly prompt much hand-wringing from Arsenal's notoriously neurotic fanbase.

Emery appeared to acknowledge that with his insistence that a player of Wilshere's pedigree deserved to be a 'protagonist' - a word often used by Spanish speaking players and managers to refer to the main man, the star that makes something happen - at another club, rather than sat on Arsenal's substitutes' bench.

How long that respect endures tomorrow is poised to be one of the game's most intriguing sub-plots. Loathe to leave Arsenal in the first place, this is Wilshere's opportunity to prove Emery wrong, to wind back the clock and beguile a familiar crowd yet to truly accept the man who decided to cut him loose. Emery must hope his gamble is a successful one.

Telegraph.co.uk

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