Wilshere's two-goal salvo a step forward

Posted by Andrew Mangan

The common narrative around Jack Wilshere this season is that he's been playing poorly and is suffering from injury which is hampering his development.

The facts don't necessarily back that up, however. Between club and country he's made 25 appearances this season, and after his two-goal salvo against Marseille on Tuesday night, he's now Arsenal's third-highest scorer.

In fact, the only time I can remember Wilshere playing badly was in the first half against West Brom at the Hawthorns in October. He was so off his game in that first 45 minutes that I was convinced Arsene Wenger would take him off at the break. Fortunately, the Frenchman did nothing of the sort and it was Wilshere's fine strike from outside the box that earned the Gunners a point.

- Wenger: Wilshere returning to career-best form
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- Wenger unhappy with Flamini's cut shirt

We all know about the goal he scored against Norwich. The one-touch back-and-forth with Santi Cazorla then Olivier Giroud created what is sure to be the goal of the season. Against Marseille at the Emirates, he opened the scoring with the kind of goal another left-footed player often delivers.

Perhaps if Lionel Messi scampered down the wing, cut into the box, left a defender flailing in the tackle and then dispatched the ball high into the net with consummate ease, we wouldn't be that impressed because he does it so often, but that's not to say it's not a goal of the highest quality. (Please note -- to save some commenters time, the comparison is with Wilshere's goal and the kind Messi scores, not the players themselves!)

Arsene Wenger jokingly suggested Wilshere's desire to score has come because he's fed up with teammate Aaron Ramsey doing it game after game, but there is a certain element of truth to it. The Welshman has gone from almost zero to hero after rediscovering his form in a sensational way, yet it was Wilshere who was supposed to be the golden boy of the Arsenal midfield.

Blessed with fantastic all-around skills, from tackling to finishing, the England midfielder was the obvious choice when tipping an Arsenal youngster for the top. Instead, his career has been sidetracked and hampered by injury. He missed all of the 2011-12 season, and struggled to get himself fully fit for 2012-13.

As Arsenal scrapped for the top four, Wilshere was restricted to mostly substitute appearances as Ramsey and Mikel Arteta powered the midfield engine. And this season, Ramsey's goal scoring and creativity have caught the eye, leaving Wilshere in the shadows.

However, his contributions have been important. When there's so much talk of the Gunners' lack of depth, he's a part of probably the most talented and versatile midfield in the Premier League. When you consider that he's competing for a place in the side with Ramsey, Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky, it speaks volumes.

As does the fact that his goals against Marseille came from an unfamiliar staring position on the right. Always a scorer at youth level, Wilshere has, for various reasons, found it difficult to replicate that in the senior team. It's something most players go through. Cesc Fabregas was the same -- prolific when younger, then taking time to find his range as a first-team player.

"When you grow up a little bit, you relax in front of goal,” Wilshere said Wednesday. “There's something that clicks when you grow and learn. It's hard to put your finger on it, but I've set myself a target of 10 goals this season and I'm only at four so hopefully I can keep going."

His two Champions League strikes were his first brace for the club, and it's a sign of a player maturing and reaping the benefits of playing regularly, even if he is still to command his "own" place in the team right.

As I've written before, this campaign for Wilshere was, first and foremost, about ensuring he stayed fit and available to play week in and week out. He's doing that, and you can see the impact it's having on his football. As his confidence grows, similar to Ramsey, it's not unreasonable to suggest we'll see a lot more from him before May.

In the meantime, even if Wilshere's form remains as poor as some people say, Arsenal still have a very good player on their hands.

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