What are you doing Jack?
I was writing this piece before Jack Wilshere's latest smoking incident. To see him making an idiot of himself yet again is depressing. How many times is he going to try the patience of Arsene Wenger? These aren't the good old days when footballers could enjoy a pint and a smoke pretty much whenever they felt like it. At the moment he looks like the latest precociously talented footballer hell bent on throwing it all away. Why does he keep doing it? Is he that thick that he can't see he's doing something wrong? I know he's a young lad, and young lads go to clubs and enjoy themselves and all that, but the difference is that he's a young lad being paid a fortune to be a professional footballer for Arsenal and England. A couple of years ago he looked a shoe-in for being the future Captain for club and country. As I write this he isn't even sure of getting a place on the Arsenal bench.
A few years ago Setanta hosted the Arsenal TV channel. In truth it was a half-arsed attempt by the Club and amid some really good programmes (which mostly involved Bob Wilson) there was a feeling that Arsenal weren't putting enough in to the venture to make it something worth watching. When Setanta's UK arm went broke it took Arsenal TV with it and the Club went back in house and ran their TV channel as an online feature. Among those few good things on Arsenal TV were the youth team highlights and the live reserves matches. And the absolute best thing about those games was watching one of the most talented 15 year-olds you will ever see. Jack Wilshere was an absolute revelation. At those levels the opponents couldn't get near him. You knew that he was going to play in the first team before too long. One goal he got at Stoke was absolutely unbelievable. It seemed that we were about to bring through a home grown superstar at Arsenal.
Of course Jack did come through and I was there when he made his debut at Blackburn. He made an impact against Sheffield United in the League Cup, capping his dominant midfield display with a goal near the end. Later on he was loaned to Bolton (it was significant that he was loaned within the Premier League) for some more match experience and he was soon ready to be part of the Arsenal first team squad. I was lucky enough to meet Jack after one game the following season when my Dad won the match ball with the lucky programme number. What struck me was the fact that he was so small for a physical midfield player, and he was also pretty cocky, but at the same time very friendly (I'd be a bit cocky if I was Jack Wilshere). He was on his way and he was going to be the main man at The Arsenal for many years to come.
As Arsenal began to struggle, so Jack seemed to be the only player putting himself on the line. A lack of genuine options in midfield meant he played a lot of games as a very young man. And being a young man he didn't want to tell the medical team that he was struggling. When he limped off in the Emirates Cup a few years ago I don't think anyone realised that he was seriously injured. We didn't see him again all season. The number of matches, and his unwillingness to reveal he was injured, caught up with Jack. In truth he has never really recovered. His ankles seem like they're made of glass at times. Every time someone goes near him he is on the ground clutching his lower leg. It got to the point where I was actually getting fed up with his rolling around every time he was tackled. When he went down against Manchester United this season I actually dismissed it as another moment of Jack making the most of the tackle. How wrong I was, as he is still out now. It was just the latest in a number of long term problems that has stalled the career of Jack Wilshere.
The problem Jack has now, besides his seeming inability to lay off the smokes, is that he is drifting down the pecking order. Arsenal don't play a system that fits Jack in to it. He isn't the defensive midfield player, even though Roy Hodgson keeps putting him there for England. Jack tackles hard enough, but usually comes off worse than his opponent. Going forward he can carry the ball brilliantly, but he has seemingly lost his willingness to do something special in front of goal (maybe it's been coached out of him by Arsene's pass, pass, pass mentality) so he doesn't score enough and doesn't create enough. Jack seems in some kind of middle ground that, apart from his wholeheartedness and pride at playing in the Arsenal shirt, is not really of benefit to the side. Let's be honest, if everyone is fit (and I know that will never happen) then Wilshere is the one who doesn't get in the team right now. He is behind Coquelin, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla and Ozil in the centre of the pitch. I'd even put him behind Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosicky if I was looking for someone in the middle. If Abou Diaby were fit he'd be behind him too. There's only really Flamini that Jack would get in ahead of at the moment. In short, he has serious work to do to secure a future at Arsenal. And yet he doesn't seem to get it.
Jack probably knows that if Arsenal sold him he'd be snapped up by another top club. The trouble is that his injuries will follow him. And so will his own off-field behaviour. I have often wondered if some of Jack's injuries are actually what we're told they are. Of course there were the spurious rumours of cocaine abuse in the past, but that's something that's often levelled at English players and almost always unfounded (though I don't doubt for one minute that it happens with some of them). But you do wonder when you keep seeing pictures of him out smoking and drinking whether he is as focused as he should be. He can only push Arsene Wenger's patience so far. It's time to knuckle down for Jack and show he wants to be an Arsenal player. Otherwise he might not be here this time next season, and he could end up as nothing more than a foot-note in our history - one of those talented, brilliant young footballers, that threw it all away. It would be a massive shame, and I should say that he is someone who has time for the fans - he is one of the few that will stop for autographs and photos. Time to focus Jack.
As it's Spurs away on Saturday, here's a little video to get us in the mood - back tomorrow.