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

The Hawthorns

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".

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 

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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones