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Whilst there have been almost innumerable improvements in Arsenal's start to this season from last, it would be fair to surmise that the form of Jack Wilshere was not one of them, and he was benched for some of the Gunners' biggest games (Manchester United (a), Napoli (h), Napoli (a)) between August and November.
The arrival of Mesut Ozil, alongside the excellence of Santi Cazorla and the necessity for the pace provided by Theo Walcott, created a danger that Wilshere could even find his first-team place under threat. Wilshere may have had Arsenal's no. 10 shirt, but the England international's appearances between August and November gave little persuasion that he should be considered an automatic selection. The form of Aaron Ramsey gave Wenger little choice but to farm Wilshere out onto the wings or even onto the bench.
Something needed to give, and that seems to have been provided in the form of Ramsey's thigh strain, sustained on Boxing Day. Since then, selected in the centre of midfield with the task to pull the strings and dictate the pace, Wilshere has looked hugely impressive.
Playing in such a role suits Wilshere's style much more than the number on his back. There was never any doubt of his ability to retain possession and pass or shield the ball, but operating from deep enables him to more easily control the tempo of Arsenal's play. Any doubts about his capacity to grab a game by the scruff of its neck from such a position were eliminated (if they indeed still existed) on Monday night against Aston Villa, when a goal and assist within a minute gave his side victory. The match was won in a minute, and won by Wilshere.
At the Emirates on Saturday, the trick was repeated. During the first half Arsenal looked stagnant, but Wilshere evidently made more impact than most. After just four minutes he clipped a through ball to Mesut Ozil, who beat Martin Stekelenburg but not Brede Hangeland, who cleared off the line, and he had 20% more touches of the ball than any other player on the pitch. Before the break Wilshere made as many passes as Serge Gnabry and Santi Cazorla combined, but Arsenal lacked noticeable width with Gnabry too often eager to drift inside in order to see the ball. That's exactly what Walcott offers, and he will be missed.
The second half quickly became a war of attrition, as Fulham sat back and played for a point that at times it appeared they may collect, as Arsenal supporters feared that they may have to settle for a third consecutive Emirates draw against their opponents.
When the opening goal finally came, Wilshere was, almost inevitably, the creator. Taking the ball from Olivier Giroud, the England midfielder would have been forgiven for striking on goal. Instead, he opted for a fantastic reverse pass back to the Santi Cazorla that the Spaniard planted home.
Interestingly, one of Wilshere's most striking characteristics also came to the fore against Fulham. Demonstrating his assuredness in retaining and shielding the ball, he has an incredible propensity to draw fouls from opponents. He accounted for 66% of all the free-kicks that Arsenal won during the first half. By the end of the match, that had increased to 71%.
Comfortably more touches than any other player. More passes made than anyone else on the pitch (his total of 106 made him the only player to register triple figures), drawing over 70% of all free kicks gained by his side and a wonderful assist to help break the deadlock - there are very real signs that Jack Wilshere is returning to top form, fine news for both club and country.
Clearly Wenger has a decision to make when Ramsey's thigh strain recovers (and a comeback is reportedly close). The Welshman's form almost acted as an epitome for Arsenal's 2013 resurgence, and his directness of play makes him a hugely difficult player to drop. With his side still sat atop the Premier League and signs of Wilshere back to his best, it's the sort of headache that Arsenal's manager won't mind suffering.
Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter
I can understand some of the criticism but it should be remembered this is his longest spell of prolonged playing with out injury for a long time. With each game his confidence has improved. Yeah, he has been erratic and his passing a bit un-reliable at times but most of thet has come from trying too hard to make something happen and lackign a bit of composure. The more he plays the more he will get back to the form when he stared against Barca.- cheesemonger