By Wayne Veysey
As Aaron Ramsey delivered another complete midfield display while adding to his growing goal collection, Jack Wilshere cut a more peripheral figure in Arsenal’s fifth league win on the bounce.
The Englishman’s most notable contribution was his role in Ramsey's match-clinching strike, in which he eye-catchingly won the ball in midfield before launching a sweet passing break.
However, it was a mostly awkward evening for England’s most promising player. Shunted out to the left flank once again to both accommodate Mesut Ozil and cover for injured pair Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski, Wilshere looked a square peg in a round hole in the opening period.
He earned a rebuke from referee Mark Clattenburg, if not a booking, for twice clattering into his direct opponent Dwight Tiendalli in the opening 20 minutes. “Super Jack Wilshere,” sang the travelling band of Arsenal fans.
It is this appetite for the battle which makes the 21-year-old such a popular figure among supporters. His 'Gooner-ness' is unimpeachable and he can play a bit, too.
Yet, in truth, it has been a slow start to the season for Wilshere, despite his team racing out of the blocks in a manner that has caught even their own supporters by surprise.
Troubled by his right ankle in the final months of last season - the same ankle that contributed to his 16-month spell on the sidelines - the midfielder underwent minor surgery on the joint in the summer.
Given the club talisman’s history and ankle weakness, Arsene Wenger would have preferred to ease Wilshere more gently into the new campaign.
However, Wenger’s midfield cupboard has been left completely bare following serious injuries to Podolski, Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott, while Mikel Arteta has only just returned to the team after missing the opening five weeks of the new season. The long-suffering Abou Diaby is also a long-term absentee.
In the absence of any other senior midfielders, Wilshere has had to play. He has been efficient, without reaching the heights of some of his commanding displays of last season, never mind his breakthrough 2010-11 campaign in which he memorably stood shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
The spirit and desire is never in doubt, but Wilshere appears to have lost some of the cocky certainty that had marked him out as the stand-out English player of his generation.
Moreover, in the immediate future, it is difficult to see him playing for his club in his favourite central midfield role. Flamini, a revelation since re-joining on a free, will scrap with Arteta for the defence screening role, which leaves Wilshere in competition with Ramsey for the other position.
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Ramsey has been the team’s outstanding contributor this season and is currently undroppable, a heartening sight for those who feared he would never be the same player after the horrific injury he suffered at Stoke three years ago.
Wilshere’s place in the order of things appears less certain. With Cazorla due to return soon, he will be effectively competing with Arsenal’s two best players - the Spaniard and Ozil - for either the playmaker role or a left-sided attacking midfield berth.
Yet Wilshere can take heart from Ramsey’s renaissance.
The Welshman seemed to suffer with a bit-part role for the first two-thirds of last season, with some of the criticism from the stands for his right-flank displays, in particular, verging on the vicious.
Indeed, many supporters were perplexed when Ramsey was, along with Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson, handed an improved five-year contract last December.
Yet Ramsey overcame the barbs and won the fans over. Through perseverance, good timing and the backing of a manager whose faith in young players is absolute.
"I’ve had a bit of stick over the past season,” admitted the Welshman after his latest man-of-the-match display. “I'm the type who never gives up and towards the back end of last season I was improving and my qualities are showing through. I’m in my [natural] position now and feel more comfortable.”
As an academy graduate with impeccable Gooner credentials, Wilshere is unlikely to ever experience the terrace doubts that swirled around Ramsey last season.
However, his team-mate offers valuable proof of how to overcome adversity and the mental, as well as physical, traumas of serious injury.
Like Ramsey, 22, Wilshere has plenty of time on his side and the complete faith of his manager. He also offers perhaps even more versatility, although not yet the goals.
In a World Cup year, the Englishman might have to accept a reduced role at Arsenal, where he is the spare man flitting around different positions to fit the team’s demands and his game time is lessened for his own protection.
It worked for Ramsey. A similar strategy can reap the same rewards with Wilshere.