Timing is everything. Arsenal fans needed a good news story and Jack Wilshere provided it over the weekend.
As expressive as he is on the field, the little midfielder spoke openly about his plans to sign a new five-year contract at the Emirates. He is convinced Arsenal can win trophies, committing himself to the club and speaking of his loyalty after 18 months battling an ankle injury. At a time when Arsenal are going through troubled times, Wilshere talked of leadership and his ambition to become the captain in the future.
He is an unquestionable talent; all deft left foot touches as Arsenal search for another superstar. They have had plenty in the past, with the names of Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira still echoing around the Emirates. In time, Wilshere can add his name to that distinguished list of Arsenal players.
His only goal, in the Champions League group game against Montpellier, underlined his undoubted ability. To reach the top he will need to spring from his defensive position in Arsenal’s midfield more often, testing keepers with driving runs into the penalty area.
Wilshere has that in his game, acquiring the passing ability and his knack of spotting the killer ball as he made his way through Arsenal’s youth and reserve teams. He is still adjusting to first team football after such a long battle with injury, but there are signs of progress in his game.
Two years ago he was the exceptional Arsenal player alongside Cesc Fabregas as they shook Barcelona over two legs in the Champions League. He surprised Xavi and Andres Iniesta in both games, the ultimate compliment for a young player marking his territory against two of the best in the business. It will be a while before they are in his sights again, but that fabled Barcelona pairing, along with Fabregas, has to be the target.
Wilshere’s pass accuracy of 87.5% in the league is high quality, but there is plenty of room for improvement as he beds into the team again. Per Mertesacker (92.8%), Mikel Arteta (92.7%), Thomas Vermaelen (88.7%), Santi Cazorla (88.5%), Aaron Ramsey (88.5%) and Bacary Sagna (87.8%) all have better records on the ball. Using it is one of Wilshere’s strengths, keeping it in circulation in key areas as Arsenal move the ball across the surface.
Wilshere is at the right club. No other team in the Barclays Premier League can keep possession quite like Arsenal, even if they lack penetration at times. With 59.8% of the possession, they narrowly rank higher than league leaders Manchester United (58.8%), Manchester City (58.3%), Liverpool (58.5%) and Swansea City (55.3%).
They will need to convert it into chances at Reading this evening in a game Arsenal need to win after a troubled week. Wilshere, who has only made a handful of appearances since he returned to the Arsenal first team, will be at the centre of it.
With such a rounded game the comparisons with Iniesta and Xavi are obvious, but the Spanish World Cup winners have the advantage of playing for one of the best club teams in the history of the game.
At 32 Xavi is peerless, boasting a staggering 95.3% success rate with his short and long range passing. His three goals and three assists add to the allure, but he is all about keeping the ball.
Iniesta is not far behind, completing 89.8% of his passes during Barcelona’s record-breaking start to the season. Although he has only scored once, nine assists underscore his value to Vito Vilanova’s exceptional team.
Fabregas was always regarded as the junior partner, but his game has evolved and the former Arsenal midfielder is one of the main men in this golden era at the Nou Camp. He has scored five times, supplementing the outrageous goalscoring form of Lionel Messi with the finishing touches in front of goal. With nine assists and a pass accuracy of 88.9% he has become a crucial member of the team.
That is the direction Wilshere’s game will be heading as Arsenal enter a congested Christmas fixture list with games against Reading, Wigan, West Ham, Newcastle and Southampton.
On January 6 Wilshere will come up against two of the ball players in the Premier League when they travel to Swansea in the FA Cup. Swans midfielders Ki Sung-Yeung and Leon Britton keep Michael Laudrup’s team ticking over with pass success rates of 92.5% and 92% respectively.
They are used to dominating the opposition, but over the next five years Wilshere will become the big noise in the Barlcays Premier League.