To many this is an easy question to answer. But it’s interesting to look through the pros and cons, and why this is a more difficult decision for Wilshere to make than for Arsenal.
There is a great sense of nostalgia, affability and frustration when it comes to Wilshere. He loves Arsenal and has been at the club for over 17 years, joining the club only five years after Wenger took charge at Highbury. But his presence also brings contrasting memories from his long tenure at the club.
He reminds us of a time when Henry and Fabregas wore the Arsenal shirt, but also Chamakh and Bendtner. The time Arsenal beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Emirates in the Champions League, and when he ran circles around Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets at Camp Nou. When he spent what felt like years on the sidelines injured, but came back from all that to where he is now: a decent 26-year-old player we can’t help but feel there’s more to come from despite his age.
He could be our Scholes, our Lampard, our Gerrard.
Why he should stay
Wilshere’s loyalty, as stated above, is unquestionable. Commitment like this is rare in football and Wenger, more than anyone, should (and is) rewarding it. In some ways, Wilshere and Wenger are the same: they both enjoy great longevity at the club, but has experienced considerable turbulence lately and are now at the tipping point.
Wilshere’s injury problems seem to have been mended, or at least halted. He’s actually been involved in 34 games this season, the most amount of games since the 13/14 season.
But most importantly, he’s still a good player. His trademark drive forward, agility as he dribles past the opponent’s midfield and his competitiveness are all highly valuable qualities. He is a creative player, something this Arsenal team has been missing since Santi got super-long-time injured. I’ve always thought Wilshere and Santi were similar. Although Wilshere can’t fill the void Santi left behind, he can do a good job of it.
Before Arsenal’s second leg against AC Milan, Gattuso accurately described Wilshere.
“He might not be fast, but he has great skills, he’s very technical. When he gets the ball he knows exactly where to send it, he gets the right pace, he can change a game,” he said.
“Gattuso said the other day: he has the technique of a Spanish player and the character of an English player. I think it’s well judged. That’s why you want him to stay at the club,” Wenger reiterated about Wilshere.
And Wenger truly wants him to stay, he just doesn’t feel he deserves a raise.
Why he shouldn’t stay at Arsenal
Wenger refusing to increase the contract offer speaks volumes to his evaluation of Wilshere within the team. And he is right in this.
Wilshere simply isn’t better than Ramsey, and doesn’t suit the more defensive role that Xhaka plays in the team (although not convincingly).
Wilshere works hard but Elneny, who just signed a new contract, works harder.
Wilshere’s inability to impact games with goals and assists is what has left him as Arsenal’s third choice central midfielder. He has just two goals and four assists in 34 games this season. Both Ramsey and Xhaka are doing better in that regard.
If Wenger is planning on bringing in another midfielder this summer, which might be why the latest contract offer is a downgrade from Wilshere’s current deal, Wilshere will only fall further down the hierarchy.
Additionally, can the Gunners afford to increase Wilshere’s contract and a new, presumably expensive, midfielder? Or is that what Wilshere is worried about and why he’s postponing signing the deal?
Wilshere is walking a narrow line. He can build on this season, in which he has only missed four, non-consecutive, games with injury and finally try to reach his ultimate potential. Or he could relapse and fall even further behind, leaving Arsenal with an expensive player who has recently signed a new contract. A player they probably should give up on at that stage but difficult to sell, as his injury issues proved correct.
It must also be on Wilshere’s mind that before this season Wenger told him, “At the moment we are not going to be offering you a contract so, if you can get one somewhere else, you can go.”
(Photo: Stuart MacFarlane)
“I do” or “I don’t”?
Wilshere deserves a new contract and I hope he signs it. But the current offer, which Wilshere is reluctant to sign, is accurate.
Since he signed his current deal in 2012 far less hype is being attributed to his name, Arsenal’s playing style has diverged from the free-flowing passing tactic that suited Wilshere more, he’s only Arsenal’s third most important central midfielder and it feels his injury issues could return any moment.
The contract that’s on the table is incentivised with playing time bonuses. He will receive a smaller annual salary, but would reach and possibly surpass his current deal if he’s frequently utilised. It’s an insurance plot by Arsenal. That may sound awfully commercial, but that’s how it works and it’s fair.
Wilshere’s next two years will really expose him for what player he can be, injured or not. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t have an extra year on his current deal to give Arsenal a more accurate evaluation of him. But if his contract had ended one year ago, would he still be an Arsenal player today? Wilshere proved that his injury problems are fading this season, but he’s overall contribution and importance to the team is uncertain.
In some ways, it would be a lesser risk to sign a new midfielder than to extend Wilshere’s contract on a higher salary. But he deserves to be offered something, and the proposed deal is adequate for both parts.