If books are ever written about Jack Wilshere, these 62 mixed minutes in an empty Hawthorns will warrant a mention. A 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion in National Group 1 of the Under-21 Premier League in front of 338 people is not the most glamorous stage in football. Wilshere's last competitive match, 16 months ago, was a European Championship qualifier at Wembley.
But there can be no doubting the importance to Wilshere, Arsenal and England, of yesterday's return. It might not have been precisely what he was hoping for. It will not lead to an immediate first-team recall, with Wilshere – who said he was "shattered" afterwards – clearly in need of more work at this levelbefore then. But it was a start.
Wilshere, below, began in his favoured role as the brain of a 4-2-3-1 system. His great friend Emmanuel Frimpong, who made his own injury return last week, was just behind him. At this gentle pace, Wilshere could snap at opponents in the hunt for the ball.
Theo Walcott had said that Wilshere "just wanted to get whacked on the ankle, whacked everywhere", and in George Thorne, he found an willing opponent. There was only one tackle, with Sam Mantom, in which Wilshere declined to participate. There was little, though, which Frimpong had not prepared him for. "When you're training with me every day you're always going to come back with a few knocks so he's used to that," Frimpong said. "I've given him a few testers, so he's tough."
Wilshere was keen to show quality the ball on the half-turn and run with it; that Gascoigne burst is not back yet, but the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, did predict that would take "three months' competition".
Twenty minutes into this game, he started to slow down and took time to breathe heavily between moves.
It was a surprise to see Wilshere at the start of the second half, especially after West Bromwich had gone ahead. But he completed 17 more useful minutes before being replaced by Kris Olsson. Wilshere should play in the same competition against Reading, at Barnet, next Monday.
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