Arsenal 4 Aston Villa 0: Jack Wilshere forced to accept loss of status in battle for starting role at Gunners

The search for the Arsenal central midfield role which seemed his entitlement has become scrambled

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The Independent Football

Jack Wilshere is walking out of Wembley stadium with a red Arsenal sun hat on his head and stops to talk for what, by present standards, is an extended period, before departing with a wink. There’s nothing self-serving about the discussion. It’s hard not to be impressed by this individual, who has just suffered the indignity of spending most of the FA Cup final on the substitutes’ bench.

The disappointment of one who, as he puts it, is “a boy who wants to play football, so of course I wanted to start the game” is softened by the fact that he has just returned after six months out injured, yet what has just happened out on the pitch has revealed how the landscape at Arsenal has changed for him. There was a time, as the coming man, when everything revolved around him. But Santi Cazorla ran the show against Aston Villa and underlined why there is a fight ahead for Wilshere when the new season comes around.

Two vignettes in the game’s last three minutes – as the last capitulation of Tim Sherwood’s Villa revealed that we are too hasty to proclaim new managers as saviours – underlined what Wilshere is up against. Cazorla, whose absence from the Professional Footballers’ Association team of the year is staggering, cracked a 40-yard diagonal pass smack on to Aaron Ramsey’s left foot.

Then Wilshere, who had arrived for Mesut Özil with just over 10 minutes of normal time remaining, placed a short ball for Ramsey which ran out of play in front of him on the right touchline. Ramsey seemed to veil what just about added up to frustration. You felt in that moment that Wilshere was the intruder in a team which was doing perfectly well without him, thanks all the same.

 

He is discovering how competitive life at an elite club really is – and how it probably ought to have been when he was breaking into the ranks, had Arsène Wenger’s squad only been well enough equipped. “The competition is ferocious and it’s going to be the same next season,” Wilshere said. “It’s part of football. When I first started at Arsenal there was players like [Cesc] Fabregas, [Samir] Nasri and [Alex] Song and people were saying I wouldn’t play, that I might have to go out on loan again to get some game time…” But that was a part of his professional development. It was self-evident he would return from Bolton with a position to fill in 2010.

Wilshere’s difficulty is good news for those who follow Arsenal. There ought to be competition. But the search for the Arsenal central midfield role which seemed his entitlement has become scrambled. The discovery of Cazorla as a central midfielder, after two years in which Arsène Wenger seems to have overlooked where the Spaniard plays best, has coincided with Francis Coquelin’s emergence.

The controversy Wilshere provoked with his raucous anti-Spurs celebrations, for a second year running, will not keep him out of any Arsenal team. But it did contribute to that old sense that one of the missing commodities with him is self-discipline. Such are the contours which allowed Wenger’s indifference – irritation, even – when it was put to him last week that Wilshere might be feeling a little unloved. “I’m still trying to get as fit as I can and the summer comes at a bad time for me,” Wilshere said. Then he left, declaring that Arsenal can genuinely covet the Premier League title now, yet wondering in his heart what part in securing it he will actually have.

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