Five years ago yesterday, two Arsenal youngster made their England debut.
It was 11th August 2015. The opponents were Hungary in a friendly. First to come on was 20 year old Kieran Gibbs. A half time substitute for a former Arsenal left back. A young talented left back who had made his Arsenal debut 3 years earlier in a League Cup tie. Strong, quick and versatile – the youngster had played centre midfield, left wing and left back in his youth career for club and country – the youngster was a talent.
Alongside him that day was the future of English football. The next Paul Gascoigne. The man with the technique of a European and the heart of a Lion. Jack Wilshire was just 18 when he came on as an 83rd minute substitute for Steven Gerrard. It was supposed to signify the beginning of the change of the old guard, with a 30 year old stalwart being replace by an 18 year old upstart.
England’s future was bright. England’s future was Arsenal.
Roll forward 5 years from that debut, and you have to now ask, have Gibbs and Wilshere progressed as expected?
Since their debut’s in 2010, there have been 47 England games. Friendly’s, qualifiers, international tournaments. Of those 47 internationals, Wilshere has played 27, Gibbs just 7. They are now 23 and 25 respectively.
The glimpse into the future of Kieran Gibbs was seen in the year before he made his England debut. Up till this point he had only made a few Arsenal appearances since his debut, providing cover for Gael Clichy. In 2009, with Clichy out injured, he was set for a run in the team. However, after just a handful of games, in November he broke his metatarsal. He failed to make an appearance for the rest of the season.
In 2010/11, he was again Gael Clichy’s deputy, but his big chance was to come a year later with Clichy being sold to Manchester City. His first season as Arsenal’s first choice left back led to him playing just 16 league games, as stomach injuries, a hernia and a handful of minor injuries restricted his play.
This was a sign of things to come. Roll on to today, he has yet to play over 30 league games in a season.
His stop start career led to Arsenal signing Nacho Monreal in January 2013. That season, he failed to play a game until 13th April after Monreal’s arrival.
He looked to have finally made his break through over the next two year, however, further injuries and loss of form led to Monreal being reinstated as first choice left back mid way through 2014/15, where he has remained since and is now undisputed number 1 (or 3, or whatever number a left back wears these days).
Gibbs’ role at the club now seems to be reduced to back up left back / defensive substitution. A huge fall for a man who 5 years ago looked to be England’s future left back and a potential 100 cap man.
Jack Wilshere’s fall from grace is even more dramatic. It was nearly 7 years ago that Jack Wilshere became Arsenal’s youngest every player.
It is over 4 years since THAT performance in a 2-1 victory over Barcelona where, as a fresh faced 19 year old, he showed that he could already compete with some of the best central midfielders in the world.
That year he played against Barcelona, he played 35 games in the Premier League. In the four Premier League seasons after, he has managed just 63. Injury has ravaged his career. Paul Scholes said a year or so back that he had not progressed, that his career highlight was still the Barcelona performance. Scholes got a lot of hate from Arsenal fans, but he was correct.
His has been a career so far of false starts and promise. Every time it looks like he has gotten over his injury problems and is moving forward, becoming the star we know he could, he breaks down again. A good end to last season and solid pre season, it looked like this could be his year, but an unfortunate tackle by Gabriel has left him out for weeks once more.
And with Jack Wilshere week’s lead to month’s. No one would be surprised if we did not see Jack Wilshere in an Arsenal shirt until 2016. By which point he will be 24. Still young enough to have a good career, but you no longer someone who can be talked about as having potential. And it will be well over 5 years from that England debut in 2010.
Injury and bad luck have restricted both Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs’ development. Gibbs is 26 in September. His career is running out before it has every really begun. Wilshere has a bit more time on his hands, but that can quickly run out. The heavily criticised Abou Diaby was 24 when he played 40 games in all competitions for Arsenal. He played 45 games in the next 5 years, is now 29, and has finally left the club. Could Wilshere be the new Diaby?
Both need to sort themselves out. And if they can not, Arsenal need to be harsh and clinical and seriously look if they have a future at the club. This might seem over the top and reactionary, but remember Diaby. If you have moaned about him being a waste of wages, and both Gibbs and Wilshere spend most of this season out of the side, injured, they have to be in the same basket.
I hope I am wrong, I hope they get fit and stay fit as both are talented players. But neither ha sreally progressed since their England debuts 5 years ago.