That Old Jack Magic
I started writing the following on Jack Wilshere for Soccer Without Limits ahead of Tuesday’s monstrosity. Fortunately all of it still stands, though some of it needed minor tweaks. Normal blog back soon but for now stay strong, where there’s life there hope and as long as our participation in three competitions is still a fact, there is very much life in the old dog yet. Also I’ve no idea why one paragraph shows up differently to the rest and if anyone could explain it I’d be much obliged.
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IN an email following the Gunners’ match against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, Arsene Wenger told me:
“Jack Wilshere played very well and you can see that he is getting closer to the player we know he is. He took a big step forward against West Brom and we sensed it in training ahead of the game.”
Well, he told me and anyone else subscribed to his email updates, but let’s not get bogged down here. Though Santi Cazorla and his dying swan act may have dominated the headlines following the 2-0 home win at the weekend, Wilshere’s performance was also rightly singled out as a breath of fresh, skillful air on a day that rounded off a poisonous week of two losses and two draws for the Arsenal.
Since I started this article, they’ve headed out of the Capital One Cup following defeat to Bradford City, away on penalties. I don’t think anyone really knew what poisonous was before this happened, but thankfully Wilshere was still a diamond in the rough in this match too, so this article can go ahead. He also, along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, scored our only two penalties in the shoot-out, with Cazorla, Marouane Chamakh and Thomas Vermaelen having theirs saved either by the keeper or by the post.
The 20-year-old is the current darling of the people on the North London terraces, and has been ever since he came bounding into the first team two seasons ago. (I mean we don’t really have anyone else to cling to, do we? I kid, I kid) After 14 months out injured in the intervening period, he ran the risk of being bigged up to some other worldly level. It’s certainly true in football that injury makes the heart grow fonder. Thomas Vermaelen’s defensive capabilities became almost something of an old Greek legend in the season he was out. This may have been partly due to the fact that Arsenal didn’t really have any defence to speak of in that time away, but irrespective of this, it was always unlikely he’d be able to live up to the great expectations fans had created in their heads in the long, long season they were without their marauding Belgian. This season he’s starting to show flashes of the old Thomas we grew to love before his plantaris tendons ruined him, sidelining him for a year, but it’s taken a generous readjustment period. This short-term (‘short-term’, hilarious, fermentingly long-term I do of course mean) memory loss also plagues the ghost of Abou Diaby. We will win all of the trophies as soon as the leggy Frenchman strings more than four games together, of this I’ve no doubt.
But the thing is, Jack is somewhat other worldly anyway. If you could mix together in a happy pot of football all the traits one could wish for in a player capable of making your heart sing, he is probably it.
“He has a Spanish technique certainly,” Wenger has said. But “He has an English heart because he’s an English boy.” I can think of no one more English than Jack Wilshere. In fact he’s so English that he’s very often mistaken for the English county of Wiltshire. But honestly, when we think of English footballers, we don’t think of a player that plays like the shoulder-droppin’, tongue-pokin’ Jack Wilshere, do we? No. I personally think of a lummoxy, hoofing centre half.
Wilshere loves the ball. Like, really loves the ball. Footballers always say they love the ball, in spite of being ball hoofers. Jack, on the other hand, loves the ball so much he’d probably cuddle it into the net if he could.
At 5ft 7 he may be somewhat vertically challenged, but it’s hardly been a hindrance for him. His first goal for the first team was scored with his head, against Aston Villa in a penalty box of tall people in November 2010. Having become a target for most footballers in most football matches, his low centre of gravity means his recoveries to his feet resemble those of Bandura’s Bobo dolls.
At the moment, possibly my favourite thing about him is that in spite of all his talent and in spite of the huge enjoyment he brings football fans, he’s quite roundly hated by all that are not Arsenal. I say ‘at the moment’ because I’m one of the few Arsenal fans who do not believe he will stay with us forever. But I miss people not liking Arsenal players. I long for the day we are hated by other teams once more. It’s such fun. But they hate Jack because he’s brilliant, and they hate him because he’s got a mouth on him (rather like his Spanish predecessor). One of the more humorous moments in the West Brom game saw him squaring up to 6ft 4in Jonas Olsson. He once told Gary Neville he was ugly. He got sent off in his second start back from injury, and against Manchester United at that. I like the fact he creates all this beautiful football, yet still looks like he basically just longs to thump someone.
At a time in which Arsenal are haemorraghing players in the same way other clubs are haemorraghing money, Wilshere’s love of the club means he’ll stick around for a while. With us since he was nine years old, he’s come through the ranks and was part of our very successful youth team of a couple of years ago. But while he may love Arsenal, he also loves winning and he really, really hates losing. In tears after the Carling Cup final in 2011 and one of the few who looked bothered after Tuesday’s cup exit, I don’t hold out much hope he’ll hang around too long if Arsenal doesn’t begin to sort itself out.
Back in his tweeting days, he was asked whether he’d prefer to win the World Cup or the Champions League. He, scandalously, chose the former, but if we want to hold on to the boy brilliant enough to have inherited the Holiest of matchday songs – the Bergkamp Wonderland song – we’re going to have to start doing an awful lot more of the winning and an awful lot less of the losing.
After it’s not like he’ll ever win a World Cup. He may well be fantastic, but unfortunately for him he’ll always be English – no matter how much his legs might tell him otherwise.