Arsene Wenger today claimed that he had no idea when Jack Wilshere would return from his latest ankle injury. The suggestion that one of the most advanced medical departments in British sport cannot produce an estimated healing time for a fairly common injury is paradoxical. One suspects this was Wenger's way of taking one of the most talked about footballers in the Premier League out of the spotlight.
Every fan in the country has a vested in interest in Wilshere's development. He was not just earmarked as a future Arsenal hero, but an England legend as well. However, a succession of injuries has stalled his rise to the top and a series of off-the-pitch incidents has left many questioning his attitude.
Having been tipped for a great career, Wilshere's trajectory is now pointing towards a good one. He is likely to end it with some trophies, plenty of England caps, but, ultimately, without the legacy his talent seemed to merit.
Now there are tentative reports that Wilshere could be put on the market this summer. While you would be wise to take these claims with a large chunk of salt, there is a strengthening argument that both Arsenal and the player would be best served by a parting of ways.
Wenger's comments summed up the 23-year-old's current position within the Arsenal squad; there is no need to rush him back. Aaron Ramsey is finding his best form once again while Francis Coquelin has emerged as a rather handy defensive midfield option.
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While losing to Tottenham at the weekend was a blow, there is a feeling that this Arsenal team is finally finding the right balance. Wenger may not know when Wilshere will return, but what is more likely is that he does not deem it important. Why risk those fragile ankles when the Arsenal team don't really need him back?
This is a worrying fact for Wilshere, who last played for Arsenal in their 2-1 defeat to Manchester United in November. Fans rarely point to his absence when trying to explain their shortcomings. When he finally does return, there doesn't seem to be a place for him to occupy.
A step too far
Injuries are certainly not his fault, but there are now claims that the Arsenal coaches are growing tired of his lack of discipline off the field, as the Daily Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson explained on Sunday.
He said: "I think the sense was that they are not very happy behind the scenes (at Arsenal), that they’re pretty exasperated.
"I think it's because it has happened a few times – he’s had a few of these off-field things. And he’s been injured a lot, although he is due back this month."
The incident in question was the emergence of a photo appearing to show Wilshere holding a shisha pipe in what was his third smoking controversy in the space of 12 months. Wenger tried to play the incident down, but his inability to learn from his past misdemeanors must be a concern for the Frenchman.
It is clear that Wilshere likes a night out and enjoys a healthy social life with friends outside of football. As long as he stays in the same environment that is unlikely to change. In that sense, the case is similar to that of Ravel Morrison when he left Manchester United.
The Morrison case
Sir Alex Ferguson claimed the troubled midfielder was one of the best teenagers he'd ever seen, but later said that he could never reach his potential having fallen in with the wrong crowd in Manchester.
Morrison eventually left for West Ham, where the hope was that he would be able to concentrate on his football away from friends that had led him astray. For a while, it seemed that it had paid off. Ultimately, Morrison's poor attitude would stimulate his downfall.
Although not nearly as extreme as Morrison, who fell foul of the law on several occasions, it is clear that Wilshere has influences directing him away from matters on the football pitch. A move away from London may help him refocus on his career and potentially get him back on track to reaching his sky-high potential.
For Arsenal, losing Wilshere will be a bigger blow to sentiment than it would to footballing matters. He is one of the few genuine talents to have been produced through their Hale End academy. Seeing a local boy succeed is almost as important as winning trophies for some fans. Their loyalty to Wilshere will be almost unconditional and his sale, especially to a Premier League rival, is unlikely to be tolerated.
Arsenal's poster boy
But each and every time Wilshere is photographed on a night out, he is damaging Arsenal as a football club. He embodies Arsenal more than anyone else in the team - the poster boy if you will - and their reputation is inextricably linked to his.
The fact is that the England international is and never has been a crucial part of the Arsenal team. A tipping point, where he becomes more of a burden to the club than an asset, is closer than ever. It will only take one more cigarette to get him over the line.
If Wenger does not see Wilshere's return as important to Arsenal's chances then he should look to cash in on him this summer. He is worth a tremendous amount of money just through being a young, talented Englishman and his sale could help fund a move for a player that will genuinely improve the squad.
There are too many fully-committed professionals out there; ones who wouldn't dream of handling a shisha pipe whilst playing for a club like Arsenal. To be harbouring one who does seems like a waste of finite resources. Had Wilshere not come through the academy, it is unlikely his behaviour would have been tolerated.
It is time for Wenger to be ruthless.
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