Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere back in the thick of it after 14-month lay-off
Arsenal midfielder is left weary but unscathed on his long-awaited return
Tuesday 02 October 2012
If books are ever written about Jack Wilshere, these 62 mixed minutes in an empty Hawthorns will warrant a mention. A 1-0 defeat by West Bromwich Albion in National Group 1 of the Under-21 Premier League in front of 338 people is not the most glamorous stage. Wilshere's last competitive match, 16 months ago, was a European Championship qualifier at Wembley and his team-mates have this week been preparing for tomorrow's Champions League home match against Olympiakos.
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 – in need of more work at this level. But it was a start.
Wilshere 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 Wilshere "just wanted to get whacked on the ankle, whacked everywhere", and in George Thorne he found an opponent willing to oblige him. There was only one tackle, with Sam Mantom, in which Wilshere declined to participate.
There was little 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."
What makes Wilshere so distinct within English football is not his strength but his creative gifts. Early in the first half, he played a delightfully disguised through-ball to Nico Yennaris, who could only shoot at the goalkeeper. Wilshere was keen to take 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".
As the game went on, Wilshere looked like a man who was playing his first football match since July 2011, the New York Red Bulls friendly out of which he limped after just seven minutes.
Twenty minutes into this game, he started to slow down and took time to breathe heavily between moves. "When you have been out for so long it's only natural that you're going to be tired," Frimpong said of Wilshere afterwards. "He needs more games to get back fit playing again."
Wilshere dropped deep, forcing Frimpong forward. "Jack just wanted to get in the game more and who am I to tell him he can't play where he wants?" said Frimpong. "If he wants to play a bit deeper and get the ball, that's fine by me."
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 Terry Burton withdrew him for Kris Olsson. Wilshere will need more of this. He should play in the same competition against Reading at Barnet next Monday.
"To be honest, I thought he did well," said Frimpong. "After 14 months out he did very, very well. He can be pleased with his performance today. I think the England fans and the Arsenal fans should be excited to see him back playing football."
Latest in Sport
Radamel Falcao exclusive: Forward says joining Manchester United is a 'dream come true'
Transfer deadline day: The best memes and tweets, featuring Radamel Falcao, Javier Hernandez and Bart Simpson
Arsenal transfer news: Ray Parlour urges Arsene Wenger to make late move for Edinson Cavani
WWE Raw preview: Will John Cena continue to defy the threat of Brock Lesnar?
Danny Welbeck to Arsenal: Arsene Wenger pictured in Rome as club close in on Manchester United striker for £17m
- 1 Al Pacino on suffering from depression: 'It can last and it's terrifying'
- 2 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 3 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain