In February of 2011 Arsenal defied the odds to beat Europe’s greatest – Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona – 2-1 at the Emirates in the Champions League.
That night the pitch was laden with midfield maestros; the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas to name a few.
But the name which dominated the back pages the morning after was none of the above, instead it was a 19-year-old by the name of Jack Wilshere.
With a passing accuracy of 93.5%, Wilshere was on a level playing field, if not higher, than the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets that night.
Six years on and the fortunes of the Arsenal academy product have not been as fruitful as many on that cold February night at the Emirates would have anticipated.
Whether that was down to the fact the Englishman has missed just shy of 1000 days through injury since that evening, or whether it is due to a natural drop in performance levels is still contested.
What is certain though is the importance of the next two years for Wilshere, and how his choices are likely to shape his future for the better or the worse.
The following details his three most likely pathways and the rewards he may or may not heap following the decision.
Option 1: Remain at Arsenal
Arsene Wenger will be fully aware of the effect his loanee had whilst at Bournemouth during the 2016/17 season.
Wilshere completed almost 2000 Premier League minutes for the Cherries; his best return since the 2010/11 season, and something Arsenal must nurture this year if they are to get him back to his best.
After assisting the winner from the bench for Bournemouth against West Ham, Eddie Howe labelled him as “the ultimate professional”.
“When he came on against West Ham he was the game changer for us,” continued Howe. “At that moment we needed some inspiration and his role in the winning goal was different class.”
The first worry for Wilshere will be whether he fits into the new 3-4-3 system Arsenal have inherited, and whether his presence threatens the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka who are already occupying his role.
Wenger would be foolish to break up the partnership between Ramsey and Xhaka which flourished towards the end of last season; so where does that leave Wilshere?
Luckily Arsenal’s shortcomings last year opened a window of opportunity for him, which may make it possible for him to remain at his boyhood club.
The 2017/18 season sees something of a rarity with Arsenal not amongst the list of names to feature in the Champions League for the upcoming season.
Since 1999 the Gunners have qualified for Europe’s top competition every year, meaning Arsene Wenger will experience a fresh challenge as they look towards preparing for the Europa League this campaign.
The Arsenal manager has already confirmed his main aim for the upcoming season is to win the Premier League, meaning fringe players and youngsters are likely to get game time during European football’s lesser competition.
This is where the importance of senior figures such as David Ospina, Per Mertesaker, Theo Walcott, Mohammed Elneny and, most notably, Jack Wilshere will come into play.
There are several reasons why Wilshere should be at the forefront of Wenger’s plans; the 25-year-old has experience at the highest levels of football both domestically and internationally, which will insure Arsenal’s Europa League venture will not become an embarrassment despite being a lesser priority.
But will taking up the role of a ‘Europa League player’ be enough to convince the Englishman to remain at the Emirates, particularly with the World Cup looming following the next campaign?
Gareth Southgate is unlikely to pick a player playing every other midweek against teams such as Real Sociedad, Hertha Berlin and Lokomotiv Moskva when the likes of Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson are showing their Premier League worth week in, week out.
Best Possible Scenario – Wilshere uses the Europa League games to break back into Arsenal’s strongest eleven; leading the team to their strongest title challenge in years whilst staying injury free. He flourishes in the midfield partnership with Granit Xhaka and gains his highest assist total since joining the club. The season ends with Wilshere helping the Gunners to one form of silverware and an England call up for the World Cup.
Worst Possible Scenario – Jack starts most of the Europa League games but fails to make an impact. His inconsistent performances see him lose his midweek spot in the starting eleven and before the season is up he is hit with yet another injury set back in training. England travel to Russia without him and Wilshere faces the same dilemma as this summer in 2018.
Likliness of Option 1 – 9/10 – Despite rumours linking Wilshere away from the Emirates Wenger has reiterated his desire to keep the Englishman so that he can fight for his place.
Option 2: Move to another Premier League Club
There remains a debate as to whether Wilshere’s stint at Bournemouth was a complete success, despite the fact he played more Premier League minutes this season than he had done in the five years prior.
Many felt the midfielder failed to meet expectations during his time on the South Coast, even with a 67% tackle success in his newer deep lying midfield position.
The main stumbling block in the argument for Wilshere is his perceived lack of contribution at the other end of the pitch; assisting only twice and not scoring once during his 29 league appearances.
Alan Shearer spoke on Match of the Day on how Wilshere’s season-long loan wasn’t quite as successful as he or Wenger would have hoped.
“That move to Bournemouth was meant to reignite his career but I think it’s created more issues,” said the Premier League all-time top scorer I know he’s had game time but he’s not played as well as a lot of people would have expected him to.”
A positive way to look at his time at Bournemouth would be that he showed glimpses of what he can bring to a lesser Premier League club.
Based on this, another move to a club such as West Ham, Crystal Palace or back to the Cherries may help him rebuild not only his consistency in terms of performances, but also his confidence.
Martin Keown agreed the midfielder needs a confidence lift:
“He’s gone from playing for England to not being first team selection at Bournemouth and that will hurt him. He need to get fit again, but we’ve said that so many times.”
Latest reports suggest Wilshere will move to West Ham United for around £20 million, with Arsenal interestingly including a buy-back clause for the midfielder.
Best Possible Scenario – Wilshere joins a midtable club on loan (West Ham, Palace or re-joins Bournemouth) and proves to be their talisman. In an injury free season, he provides his team with assists and goals and lifts the club into a Europa League position. His performances also do not go unnoticed by England manager Gareth Southgate, who rewards Wilshere with a World Cup call up at the end of the year. The midfielder returns to Arsenal at the end of the summer to sign a new contract and provide a greater fight for a first eleven spot for the 2018/19 season than he could have done prior to this.
Worst Possible Scenario – Wilshere fails to ignite his career (just as many say he did this year) at a midtable Premier League club, with an injury at the end of the season compiling to the misery of no goals and only a handful assists in the games beforehand. He is injured for the World Cup in Russia and upon returning to Arsenal is not offered a new contract.
Likeliness of Option 2 – 7/10 – Wilshere has been linked to many lesser Premier League teams this Summer and it seems the most likely destination if Wenger has no room in his plans for the midfielder.
Option 3: Move abroad
Jack Wilshere has spent his entire footballing career in England; moving only as far north as Bolton and as far south as Bournemouth.
But with his career seemingly on the ropes, a move abroad to another major European league must be in his mind.
Reports this summer from Sky Italia have heavily linked the midfielder to Italy, specifically Sampdoria for as little as £8 million.
This isn’t the first time Wilshere has been linked to Italy either, with Milan being big favourites to gain his signature last summer.
Whilst this seems an unlikely move – particularly for a price as little as £8 million – what is clear is that Wilshere will have no troubles fitting it at Sampdoria.
Vito Doria from Forza Italian Football labelled their style of play as simply ‘the Doria-style’; with priorities set in keeping possession and hitting teams on the counterattack
Wilshere’s best performances in an Arsenal shirt – see Swansea at home in the League Cup in January 2013 and of course Barcelona at home in 2011 – see him hold a deep lying creative midfielder role; focused on retrieving possession and carrying the ball forward at pace.
Doria also states that his club lives by the following saying by Vujadin Boskov, “to see Sampdoria play is like listening to beautiful music”; there is no better place Wilshere could have learnt the beautiful game than under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
But would this move jeopardise any potential reintroduction into the England team? Wilshere will of course struggle to gain the plaudits of the English management staff playing for a midtable Serie A side like Sampdoria.
As for the major European teams their interest in Wilshere seems close to non-existent; whether that is because of the sheer desperation associated with this summer’s window or due to Wilshere’s drop in the pecking order in England is debated.
Best Possible Scenario – Wilshere leads Sampdoria to their highest Serie A finish in years as their main man; contributing goals and assists as their main playmaker. His performances gain the interest of Italy’s biggest clubs (just as Szczesny did so last year) the following summer. His performances receive so much credit that Southgate cannot ignore him for England call up. Wilshere returns to Arsenal in 2018 and has a decision to make between his boyhood club and the likes of Juventus in Italy.
Worst Possible Scenario – Wilshere’s time at Sampdoria proves to be a failure with the Englishman failing to make an impact as his side finish lower than their 10th place standing last campaign. Alongside his string of uninspiring performances, he suffers another long-term injury, keeping him out until the new season. Arsenal do not offer him a new contract and Wilshere must settle for another mid table club in Europe on a permanent basis.
Likeliness of Option 3 – 4/10 – The only real interest from Europe this summer has come from Sampdoria who have offered only a small amount. If Wilshere is to leave Arsenal he will be looking to stay in England above all, especially with the World Cup looming.
So Wilshere has a decision on his hands; does he stick to his roots and give the highest level of domestic football another try, or move onto lesser pastures of England’s shores and beyond?
Arsene Wenger stated that he expects the 25-year-old to remain in N5 and fight for his place, but with serious competition on his hands will this be the best option for his future, particularly with Russia 2018 on the horizon?