Back in time for more of this?
Since Jack Wilshere got injured at home to Manchester United, Arsenal's results have taken an upturn. Since Christmas they've been largely superb. Performances have generally got better as well, with the high point being the dismantling of Liverpool a couple of weeks ago. Given that Jack has long been considered the saviour by many of us this leads to an interesting question: are Arsenal better off without Jack Wilshere in the side? You could also ask, with the team playing as it is, where does Jack Wilshere get a place? And this isn't the first time that things have seemingly taken a positive turn once Jack was safely in the Abou Diaby wing of the training ground. To me it has to be a strange anomaly as Jack is genuinely that good. I don't believe, for one second, that Arsenal are better off without Jack Wilshere.
I've been able to watch both of the Arsenal Under 21's games this last week. I was at the stadium for the 4-1 hammering of Stoke City of last week, and I was pleased that the official website carried live coverage of the Reading game this week (one of the best things about Arsenal's short-lived TV channel was the live coverage of Reserves football). Jack showed some nice touches against Stoke but looked short of fitness. When he was on the ball he had the measure of less talented players (not all of them were younger than Jack as he's hardly a veteran himself). Off the ball you could have argued he looked disinterested, especially next to an all action display from the aforementioned Diaby. Clearly he wasn't close to a first-team return based on that Stoke outing.
Against Reading this week Jack looked a different player. In fact he looked a different player to the man who has played in the first-team in the last couple of seasons. One of the joys of watching Jack Wilshere in those Arsenal TV days was the way he used to run at the opposition and go past them. It created space for others and was genuinely exciting to watch. In his years playing mostly for the first-team that has gone from his game. He doesn't run at people and beat them anywhere near as often as he did as a kid. He is more likely to look for the pass and the one-two than to do what clearly comes naturally to him, and was the thing that made his name early on. Against Reading on Monday night all of that flair was back. Jack was the standout player on the pitch, just like he used to be. When he gets back in the first-team that is exactly how I want to see him play, whether he's playing the more reserved role currently occupied by Santi Cazorla, or if he's in for Mesut Ozil. Jack possesses the rare ability to take on defenders and commit them and beat them. With the way Arsenal play so intricately at times, particularly against an organised defence, that sort of player can make all the difference.
The difficult thing for Jack is how he gets back in to the team now. He's made three appearances at the lower level, and his running the other night told me he was a man wanting to show Arsene Wenger that he is ready. Clearly he won't be usurping anyone in the starting line-up any time soon, unless there are more new injuries. However, he has to be given a place on the bench. Jack Wilshere can change games. I don't see how the likes of Flamini can be retained among the substitutes now that Jack is back. His return, and hopefully his freshness, could be a real bonus as we get in to the final sprint. Starting at Wembley on Saturday I want to see Jack back with the Arsenal first-team.
As we get towards Saturday I will be writing a proper preview piece at some time on Friday. I am also providing an Arsenal fans view for Reading's page on vitalfootball.co.uk - that is likely to be up at some point on Friday night, I think, so I will link to it from Twitter and Facebook as well as on this site.