Arsenal face Jack Wilshere conundrum over final five games

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere battles for the ball with Everton's Steven Pienaar in the 0-0 draw at the Em

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere battles for the ball with Everton's Steven Pienaar in the 0-0 draw at the Emirates. Photo: John Walton/EMPICS Sport - Credit: EMPICS Sport

Jack’s back - but is he fully fit and ready to play in crucial Premier League run-in?

Jack Wilshere’s return to fitness this season has undeniably been a boost for Arsenal – but after Tuesday night Arsene Wenger must be wondering if his key midfielder can be relied upon for the Premier League run-in.

For the second game in succession Wilshere was withdrawn early from the fray after the bruising encounter with Everton in which the 21-year-old had again struggled to compete to his usual level.

Having admitted prior to the game that he had “rushed Jack back a bit when he was not completely ready”, there was general surprise at the Emirates on Tuesday to see Wilshere’s name in the starting XI against Everton.

It was a second game in four days for a player who had spent six weeks on the sidelines, and before that 17 months out of the game. It seems Wenger is a little too desperate to have his young talisman back in the ranks.

“How careful have I to be?” said Wenger. “To listen well to the medical advice and that is what I have to do. Use him when everything is alright and listen to him as well, how he feels.

“He has been out for six weeks, so maybe it was a bit too rushed what I did [against Norwich]. I will get advice from the medical department and how he feels as well, and as well use my experience and the fact I know him very well.

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“He practices with me since he was 16, so I know quite well how his body responds to things.”

That may be true, but Wilshere looked off the pace in Saturday’s 3-1 win – the Gunners’ late comeback was achieved once he had left the field – and tired in Tuesday’s gruelling draw with Everton.

The Toffees’ excellent midfield quintet, led by the robust Marouane Fellaini and Darron Gibson and equally competitive Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley, ensured the central battleground was no place for the faint-hearted on Tuesday.

As we saw in his running battle with Mirallas, Wilshere could never be accused of that, but a player operating at less than full capacity was bound to falter in that company, and so it proved.

“The game was very intense physically,” admitted Wenger. “That’s part of the game. We had to deal with that and the referee has to make the right decisions.

“Apart from that, it was a game of huge intensity, a fight for both teams. You have to respect the effort Everton put in. They decided to make it very physical for us to disturb our game.”

They succeeded in doing so, with the Gunners’ other creative hub, Santi Cazorla, also effectively nullified, even if he did look more of a threat when he moved inside from the left to the centre once Wilshere had gone off.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski had replaced Wilshere and Theo Walcott – who had faltered under the physical challenge of the visitors.

Again the Gunners’ game went up a level for the final 20 minutes, and while that is to be expected in the final push for a result, those two substitutes are itching to start matches, and must be in contention to do so at Craven Cottage on Saturday.

Podolski has now not started a league game since January, and Chamberlain not for over a month. Rotation and the correct use of a fully-fit squad could play a crucial part over the final five games for the Gunners.

Olivier Giroud looked shattered at the end of Tuesday’s game, his 12th successive league start since January. Podolski is not the only one wondering why he starts every game on the bench.

With Tomas Rosicky having returned to the squad against Everton, it was a surprise not to see him play any part, although it suggested he is also not fully fit. In truth, he rarely is.

Neither, it seems, is Wilshere. When he is, there is no doubt he is a crucial player for both club and country, but the legacy of his long-term injury is that he still needs wrapping in cotton wool.