09 October 2014

That's that, then. Wilshere for Ballon d'Or.

Jack Wilshere turned in such a dominating, dominant performance against San Marino that they might as well give him the 2014 Ballon d'Or now and save everyone the suspense. Such was his magnificence in a 5-0 shellacking of San Marino.Yes, it was an overmatched opponent. Yes, you could have fit the entire population of San Marino (31,448) into Wembley's empty seats (34,010). As such, we should be careful about just how far we extrapolate from this one result. Still, Wilshere's performance, even if against one of Europe's minnows, should remind us of what Wilshere can do when he's fit and confident. With Özil out until December or January, we'll need this version of Wilshere if we expect to build or sustain any kind of momentum in the Prem or Champions League.

Have a quick gander at the highlights below and set aside the caveats that say "it's only San Marino."
Imagine, instead, that this is the kind of performance a fully-fit and confident Wilshere can deliver against stiffer competition. For this night, we saw Wilshere doing what he does best, driving deep into the opponent's defense, pinging short passes to teammates, spraying long passes down the field where only his 'mates could get them. It was a vision of what may be and what he may become. In an Arsenal season already marred by injury, Wilshere's performance for the Three Lions offers solace, if not inspiration, as we consider our prospects going forward. In fact, were it not for the wanton wastefulness of Rooney, we might even extol Wilshere all the more for an assist or two. As it stands, the 28-year old did tally a goal from the penalty spot, to move within seven of Bobby Charlton's record. If only he'd seen fit to do better with Wilshere's service...

Hold the phone, though. I'm not here to lambaste Rooney, just to put in a jibe or two. I'm here to discuss Wilshere. He's taken a fair amount of stick recently, but I guess that's what happens when you deliver the kind of performance he did against Barcelona back in early 2011, bossing a match that included a still-spry Xavi and Iniesta in midfield. It was perhaps borne more of cheek than of it was of wisdom, but it quickly become the stuff of legend, evidence that the lad would soon go on to imitate if not surpass the likes of Bergkamp or Brady in the midfield, but, then, of course, came the injuries. The surgeries. The fitful comebacks. The lad has been with the club for so long that it's easy to remember that he's still only 22. Without fueling the fires of expectation, it's worth suggesting that there's another injury-plagued, would-be savior who achieved a break-out season along a similar trajectory.

That would be Aaron Ramsey, of course. Born 13 months earlier than Wilshere, Ramsey also buckled under the weight of early expectations, suffered injuries (a bit more gruesome), and struggled to find his form. Then, in 2013-14, of course, he positively erupted, finding a form that even his most-ardent supporters may have been surprised by. In the long shadow cast by that performance, whispers around Wilshere's future grew. Would he still have a future with the club? Could he ever regain the kind of form he once showed on that February against Barcelona?

Each time he's failed to do so, the doubts have deepened. Maybe he never was or never will be the player we idealized. As each season has come to an end without the glory we've pined for, it's perhaps Wilshere who shoulders most of the blame. We've trained ourselves to expect others to leave or let us down; with Wilshere, however, we've pinned a deeper set of hopes to him. With that comes a shorter fuse, a deeper need. Shorn of other talismans, those expectations accrue to Wilshere. Atlas shrugged under less (no, that's not an Ayn Rand allusion).

We still have another week or so before this interlull ends; by then, we may have Walcott and Ramsey rejoining Wilshere on the pitch. With Alexis, Welbeck, and Walcott up top, a Ramsey-Walcott pivot might be on offer to deliver service to them, all the more enticing against the likes of Hull, Anderlecht (home and away), Sunderland, and Burnley. In other words, Wilshere's performance against San Marino, though it comes with its asterisks, signifies a player ready to take the season by the scruff.

Vote for Woolwich 1886 as Best New Blog in the FBAs--click below! Time will tell, of course, if we can use these upcoming fixtures to build confidence and momentum for a tougher stretch that follows.

In the meantime, I hope you'll consider voting for this blog in the Football Blog Awards, in which Woolwich 1886 vies for a Best New Blog award. If you're the twittering type, you can click here to tweet your vote. If you're not on twitter, you can click the image on the left or here to vote via email—just enter Woolwich 1886 in the "new" category, receive a confirmation email, and confirm. Done. Dusted. Thanks!