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John Barrett: It’s time Jack Wilshere really stepped up to the plate at Arsenal

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere (Julian Finney / Getty Images)
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere (Julian Finney / Getty Images)

JACK WILSHERE will celebrate his 26th birthday as 2018 dawns.

In footballing terms, he’s now officially middle-aged. And it’s fair to say the world is still waiting for him to arrive.

He made his League debut for Arsenal at 16, won his first England cap at 18 and was supposed to be the great hope for the future with both club and country.

But in those 10 seasons, Wilshere has played just 113 times in the Premier League for the Gunners.

Injuries have been the main reason, but last season Arsene Wenger thought he was so dispensable, he loaned him to Bournemouth and this season he’s been mainly used in the Carabao Cup and Europa League.

However, there are signs that things may be changing.

His appearance at Crystal Palace the other night was his fourth consecutive League start and his pass for Alexis Sanchez’s second goal was a throwback to the days when a younger Wilshere promised so much.

England manager Gareth Southgate would have been particularly interested because none of his current midfielders – Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Jake Livermore – can play balls like that.

Some observers are already suggesting that Southgate should promote Wilshere to his squad on the basis of that pass alone.

Earlier this season, Wenger championed Wilshere’s case for an international call-up at a time he wasn’t picking him for Arsenal. So Southgate understandably didn’t take much notice of the Frenchman’s endorsement.

But if he’s getting regular game-time and is influencing big matches, then Wilshere is a no-brainer for Russia.

With only six months of his current deal remaining, Arsenal will open contract talks with the player in January and the indications are that, unlike Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, Wilshere is perfectly happy to stay at the Emirates – if the finances are right!

In the past there have been accusations that he’s been allowed to stagnate in a comfort zone by his boyhood club, and the danger is that situation could repeat itself over the time-span of any new contract.

If he does re-sign, he needs to change that mindset and pretend he’s just been bought by Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, and isn’t still playing for the same manager he had 10 years ago.

He needs to step in from the periphery and use the opportunity to really become the onfield heart of Arsenal, something he’s always said he wanted to be.

If he just signs on for more of the same, then nothing will change and we’ll still be talking about unfulfilled potential when he celebrates his 36th birthday and is ready to hang up his boots.