Why is Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere finding it hard to reach his usual impressive standards, asks Alan Smith.
Jack Wilshere, I am sure, will not have enjoyed the bulk of his season so far. It will have felt like a grind when it should be so smooth.
The mind has been willing, the body less so as the Arsenal player strives for the form that makes him so special.
As it is, and as it painfully proved in the first half at the Hawthorns, Wilshere cannot rise above the crowd to stamp his authority on games that would normally see him call most of the shots.
Part of the reason, I suspect, is a troublesome ankle that needs careful management from week to week. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, for now, cannot play him in every game, which means the player’s match fitness gets slightly compromised; that and his sharpness and awareness, his ability to see the tackle coming long before it does and either ride it with a skip or accelerate away.
As it is, the 21-year-old is constantly getting caught. Countless times this season he has ended up writhing on the ground after being flattened by the kind of challenge he would normally evade with ease.
An inevitable bi-product is a dip in confidence. That feeling of superiority just is not there at the moment, meaning he grows frustrated and gets sucked into situations that are really best avoided. The first 45 minutes at the Hawthorns illustrated this perfectly. No matter how hard he tried, Wilshere could not put a foot right. Whether it was misplacing passes, overrunning dribbles or mistiming tackles, the midfielder suffered a torrid time.
To make matters worse, he spent large chunks of the half chasing Billy Jones and Morgan Amalfitano down West Bromwich Albion's right flank. Positioned on Arsenal’s left, he was left with little choice but to do that kind of backtracking for the good of the team, even if it represented a waste of his energy and talent.
However, that is just how it is with Mesut Özil in the side and with Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini also playing so well. For the first time in his Arsenal career, Wilshere is being shoehorned into an unfamiliar position to find a way of fitting him into the team.
As for what will happen when Santi Cazorla returns from injury, well that will all depend on Wilshere’s form at the time. If he plays like he did in the first half at the Hawthorns on Sunday, a place on the bench is not out of the question.
Alternatively, if he performs like he did after the break to score the equaliser in a much-improved display, Wenger will always find a place for his gifted number ten. One moment, in particular, shone with style and class. A sumptuous pass to Olivier Giroud reminded us of the qualities lurking within.
This turnaround in fortunes required a great show of character, not to mention an unshakeable belief in his ability. Wilshere did not hide, he kept volunteering, aided by his switch to a more central role.
This should all be good news for Roy Hodgson’s England . The Three Lions need an in-form Wilshere for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. They need the player capable of bursting past opponents with arrogance and pace, rather than the one struggling for rhythm.
We saw both aspects on Sunday at the end of a week that saw him hit the headlines for non-football reasons. That comes with the territory when you make the grade. Maintaining those standards must now be the aim.