I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise really. Even from an early age, my eyes were focused on midfield flair and technicality. The ability to dictate a game without scoring fascinated me. Very much a product of the “Fifa Generation,” the likes of Nedved, Deco, Zidane, Ronaldinho, and Figo became my favorites. Mercurial talents that will forever go down as some of the greatest of all time. As I adopted Arsenal as my club at the tail end of the Invincibles era, I fell in love with Vieira, Fabregas, and Rosicky. Of the incredible names listed above none have ever stirred up the range of emotions that I got when I first watched one: Jack Wilshere.
He was so young and positive in his footballing approach, that it was impossible not to take notice. The juxtaposition of his shaggy hair and flailing arms to his technical brilliance and ability to burst past defenders was pure footballing seduction. Like that mosquito you just can’t bat away, Wilshere was perfectly imperfect in the way he navigated around defenders and through defenses.
Since his senior debut in 2009, his journey has been riddled with twists and turns and different eras of his career have existed as a result. Still at just 26 years of age, ever-evolving contextual factors and changes to his physicality have shaped who Jack is today. This piece analyzes how I see the different “Wilshere Eras” and my favorite moment from each.
The Chaotic Jitterbug: 2009 to 2012
Jack made his senior debut during the 08/09 season at the ripe, young age of 16 years, 256 days, breaking a record previously held by Cesc Fabregas. His first goal, shown below, came in a 6-0 Arsenal thrashing of Sheffield United. He made a total of 10 senior Arsenal appearances before being loaned to Bolton for the majority of the 09/10 season.
Wilshere’s 10/11 season is the one that captivated many. Often remembered for his performance in the CL first leg against Barcelona, this season was so much more than a one off. He made 49 appearances across all competitions which still remains 14 more than his next best season.
He predominantly played alongside Song in deeper midfield where he showed an uncanny ability to drive the team forward. This season and this Wilshere Era was pure “Wengerball” predicated on quick pass and move football and dynamic movement.
It was the little things that struck a chord with me. The way he could stop on a dime, wrap his ankle around the ball, and change direction; that little drop of the shoulder and glide by a defender; the way he’d position his body to let the ball run across to create space. He was the jitterbug with boundless energy constantly driving us forward.
Defining Moment: Barcelona in the Champions League is too easy, so it’s his well-rounded midfield performance in the 3-1 win against Chelsea at the Emirates in December 2010. He was disciplined defensively, physically battled against the more robust Chelsea CM’s, and broke forward intelligently (sorry no video footage).
The Technical Dynamo: 2012-2015
After his lost 11/12 season, his subsequent 3 seasons led to 33, 35, and 32 appearances respectively. The signings of Cazorla in 12/13 and Ozil in 13/14 often meant Wilshere wasn’t always a central, creative focal point. Despite the occasional stint on the wings, this time period was defined by forward play and high technical levels.
Jack was given the armband for the first time during the 12/13 season, scored that incredible Norwich goal the following season, and got his first brace against Marseilles. He hoisted his first trophy in the form of an FA Cup during the 13/14 season where he came on as an extra time sub and immediately injected dynamism into the team. His two match ban for “flipping the bird” at Man City fans as well as the famous drunken “shit” speech also happened during this era.
Defining Moment: Most will shout that Norwich goal. But I’m a massive fan of the one the following season against West Brom in a 4-1 win on the final week of the season.
The Selfless Surveyor: 2016-Current
In a time period that should have seen Wilshere at the peak of his powers, the injury bug hit hard. Prior to this season, Wilshere only made 5 appearances for Arsenal in the 15/16 and 16/17 seasons. I personally blame his gargantuan quads he carved out in the weight room.
Wilshere was able to make 27 Premier League appearances for Bournemouth after choosing to go on loan during the 16/17 season. Having watched a lot of these games, it was apparent he was changing stylistically. He was reading the game from deeper and relying less on close-quarter control and more on technical security; less on sucking in defenders to pass and move around and more on facilitating to teammates. He was now a surveyor of the game picking his moments to break forward while providing a platform.
Here’s an example of his trademark technicality with a slightly diminished burst compared to his earlier years:
Defining Moment: A game defined by a brilliant 5+ minutes yet a rather disjointed overall team performance, Wilshere was Arsenal’s one constant performer in the Liverpool match in December. He was excellent in his defensive covering and never hid in possession despite the constant Liverpool pressure.
I’m not blind to Jack’s deficiencies by any means, I just chose to ignore them for this piece. Football is a game that should evoke joy and the positives behind Wilshere’s skillset give me this in abundance. It’s very possible Jack’s tenure at his childhood club could be coming to an end this summer. If so, I for one have been grateful for every turn, every burst, every pass, and every bead of sweat he has left on the pitch. Let’s hope for a happy ending.
Follow me on Twitter @dfresh10
Pick up one of Jack’s old shirts above 🙂
31 year old based in the U.S. I am an elementary school teacher by day whose passion for teaching is only rivaled by a love for the Arsenal. I release a weekly piece each Tuesday that is oftentimes analytical but sometimes eccentric. Founder of the U.S. supporters group Syracuse Gooners (www.cusegooners.com). I enjoy interacting with any and all Arsenal-based opinions on Twitter. Have a younger brother who chose to support Spurs. Fielding suggestions for ways to disown him.