Arsene Wenger has his old Jack Wilshere back much sooner than expected
England midfielder hugely impressive in victory over West Brom
For someone carrying the huge expectations of club and country on his shoulders, Jack Wilshere is walking remarkably tall. During a depressingly long period while missing the whole of last season and then the first two months of this one, he was walking only with a limp, but the past few games have demonstrated exactly what Arsenal and England have missed.
An outstanding performance in Arsenal's 2-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday offered further encouragement that 2013 could be a breakthrough year for a player who begins it by celebrating his 21st birthday on 1 January; breakthrough in the sense of becoming an indispensable international footballer.
Arsenal, only too aware of the setbacks Wilshere suffered during that cruel year out, will continue to make sure he is not overplayed, the decision to leave him at home while they went to Greece last midweek for a dead Champions' League game having been vindicated by the freshness of Saturday's display.
"I have still to be cautious," the manager Arsène Wenger said. "For example today is the first time I see him very, very close to the player he is. We have to see if he has no reaction.
"It was good to leave him at home in midweek. To give him a breather from time to time – maybe two, three games and then one breather. But when he plays at that level, and you are under the pressure we are under to win the games, it is difficult to leave him out."
There's the rub. Tenth place before the game may have been a false reflection of Arsenal's performances – and unquestionably of their ability – but they need to take advantage of a run of winnable games to make up further ground before dates with Manchester City and Chelsea after Christmas.
Wenger, however, has always been conscious of the pit falls in developing young players. "I played him when he was 16 because I saw something. I'm just happy that a boy of 20 years old can play football because he was out for 17 months."
"Got your old Jack back?" he was asked, responding: "Yes... our young old Jack. Not at his maximum yet but not far away on what he has done today. The surprising thing for me is that he is in advance. I expected him to be back at his best next year in February. He's an enthusiastic player – he goes for the challenges the day before a game. I don't hold him back because I think it is good to have that attitude. When the best players have that attitude, you have always a chance."
Albion, meanwhile, were more concerned with three crucial decisions that went against them. The Football Association will consider today whether to charge the manager Steve Clarke for his comments about the referee Mike Jones.
Clarke had said following the game: "I don't want to have a witch hunt on referees but we got one of the poorest of the group of Premier League referees today."
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