LONDON (Reuters) - Overshadowed by Aaron Ramsey and new signing Mesut Ozil so far this season, midfielder Jack Wilshere offered signs that he was getting back to his best with both goals for Arsenal against Marseille in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Still only 21, Wilshere has long been touted as the man to lead Arsenal to a long-overdue Premier League title and also become the lynchpin of England’s midfield.
Yet a succession of ankle injuries have disrupted his progress and this season, Wilshere has struggled to stand out in a midfield brimming with quality.
When Wilshere missed the entire 2011-12 season through injury his stock rose as Arsenal struggled to keep pace with the top clubs in the Premier League.
He was hailed as the club’s savior when he returned last October but failed to score in the league and so far in this campaign, Arsenal’s surge to the top of the table has been inspired by the goals of Ramsey and Olivier Giroud and playmaker Ozil’s assists.
England manager Roy Hodgson, while a huge fan of Wilshere, underlined that the Arsenal player is not an automatic choice in the team when he was left out of the vital World Cup qualifier against Poland after a poor display in the 0-0 draw against Ukraine in Kiev.
While the focus has definitely shifted away from Wilshere, it could be good news for Arsenal and England.
Wilshere looked hungry and motivated on Tuesday and played with the spark that illuminated his performances when he broke into the side as a teenager.
Starting in a wider role he flourished, scoring two goals in a match for the first time in his career.
“He played as a young boy on the flank, on the right side,” manager Arsene Wenger told the club’s website.
”If I would make him stay on the flank I understand that he cannot play there, but he is quite free to move inside. He does that in an intelligent way.
“Sometimes you can find freedom in positions where usually you would be marked if you played more central.”
“He’s starting to think ‘what Ramsey can do, I can do as well’. He’s calm in front of goal and especially the first goal shows that.”
Wilshere needed only 29 seconds to curl Arsenal into the lead and added a second late on to clinch a victory that leaves the club on the verge of the Champions League last 16.
Providing Arsenal do not lose by three goals in Napoli in their final group fixture they will progress, although the element of doubt means Wenger can ill afford to rest players for what will be a highly-charged night in Italy.
“We have a big program - I will have to rotate a little bit until then,” Wenger said.
“We have three Premier League games just before we go to Naples so I’ll have to use my squad well without dropping points in the league, and go there with a very strong team.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O'Brien