Jack Wilshere has returned from his loan with Bournemouth without knowing where he stands within the Arsenal squad. Did Arsene Wenger use it as a chance, or is he being chastised?
Arsene Wenger is a huge proponent of the English loan system. He has long utilised it to provide first-team experience for the younger players that he is unable to work into his plans at Arsenal because of the more experienced, accomplished, reliable options already available to him.
However, he has also used to rid of unwanted, older players that he has no use of, proceeding to sell them on a permanent basis later on, or just flat out release them. The likes of Benik Afobe, Mathieu Debuchy and Joel Campbell are recent examples of this. None were significant members of the squad when they were initially loaned out, and upon their return, they were either released, sold or expected to be this summer.
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During the same period, however, players like Chuba Akpom, Serge Gnabry and Calum Chambers have been provided with the opportunity to play for a lesser club, such that they can receive regular playing time and continue their development. Some of these loans have been more successful than others, but the intention is often the same: the future of the player.
It is in this context that I now shift to Jack Wilshere’s recent loan to Bournemouth. Now 25 years of age, Wilshere cannot be considered a bright prospect with a fledgeling career ahead of him. And yet, amid his prime, he is unable to even forge a reserve role for himself at a club that values the talents that he boasts so highly.
That would suggest that Wenger is choosing to chastise Wilshere, not offer him a chance. However, there is one key aspect to consider here. Wilshere is coming off a number of scuppered seasons due to crippling, long-term injuries.
Wenger did not loan him out to see if he had the quality to deal with the demands of the Premier League. He knows his ability already. He loaned him out to give him games so that he could improve his match fitness.
And there is a precedent for Wenger doing exactly that in the past, before welcoming the player back into the squad, making them a key member of the starting XI. After his horrific leg break at Stoke City, Aaron Ramsey was loaned out to Nottingham Forest and then Cardiff City so that he could play multiple games to regain his confidence and his sharpness. It worked. He came back to North London and entrenched himself as the pivotal box-to-box central midfielder in Wenger’s 4-2-3-1 system. Perhaps, then, Wenger is wanting to do the same with Wilshere.
It is difficult to ever decipher Wenger’s intentions. He keeps his cards close to his chest and rarely reveals his plans to the public. As Wilshere has only one more year remaining on his contract, we will quickly know if Wenger sees him as a part of his future or wants him gone. But until that point, it as much a guessing games as anything else.