Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday
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 By Tom Adams

Would Arsenal sign Wilshere if he wasn't on contract? At this stage, no

There are no suggestions as of yet that Arsenal will be trying to sign Baily Cargill in a big-money move this summer. Fans won't be deluging the club's official Twitter account with desperate pleas to "announce Max Gradel" when the transfer window opens and it's unlikely that the scouts have been dispatched to produce a bulging dossier on Brad Smith. But, like Jack Wilshere, all three men have earned the dubious pleasure of being substitutes for the past two Bournemouth matches.

It is one way to look at Wilshere's loan move this season: If he was permanently attached to Bournemouth, would Arsenal be trying to sign him in the summer?

Admittedly, it's an overly simplistic reading of things, which ignores the reservoir of knowledge Arsene Wenger has about the player and his potential -- if indeed it is Wenger who makes the call -- and the amount of time and money Arsenal have invested in a player who was likened to Dennis Bergkamp and Liam Brady when he first emerged from the club's academy. But the question lingers, inviting a difficult answer: In a parallel universe, would you really want to buy Wilshere based on what he has put together for Bournemouth this season?

If his loan was merely an exercise in addressing his crippling injury issues, then it could be regarded as something of a success. Bournemouth have seemingly managed Wilshere's problems well and he has started 19 league games -- the most since the 2013-14 season, when he ended the campaign with the same tally. But those numbers don't tell the whole story.

For a player of Wilshere's talent and experience, it would have been a galling experience to be dropped to the bench for the 1-1 draw away at Manchester United on March 14. He has battled against some of football's finest midfielders on some of the biggest stages, but Harry Arter and Andrew Surman started at Old Trafford. Last weekend, with Surman suspended as a result of his red card against United, it was Dan Gosling who came into the centre for the 3-2 home win over West Ham.

This time last year, Wilshere would hardly have envisaged himself sat on the Bournemouth bench, but that is the role he has now been cast in by Eddie Howe. There were suggestions that Wilshere was not fit for the United game, but Howe revealed the truth of the matter.

A Bournemouth substitute with a lengthy history of injury problems, Jack Wilshere could be a further complication to Arsenal.

"Jack is the ultimate professional," said Howe this week. "Tactically we have had to change a couple of things and gone with two strikers." The player once garlanded as the new Paul Gascoigne has been dropped by a team battling relegation, with no place for him in Howe's two-man midfield.

Howe was keen to highlight Wilshere's part in Bournemouth's third goal against West Ham, but he has only contributed two assists all season and hasn't scored a solitary goal. That is not all his game is founded on -- in November he was being praised for playing more key passes than Eden Hazard and Juan Mata -- but as Bournemouth's form disintegrated in a run of six defeats in seven games between Jan. 7 and Feb. 25, it is instructive that Howe's tactical answer was to drop Wilshere; they have four points in two games since then.

You return to the same question: Would Arsenal sign Wilshere if he wasn't already contracted to them? At this stage, sadly, the answer would have to be no. That is not quite the same as saying Arsenal shouldn't bring him back into the fold, but it does provoke further questions about his long-term value to the team. Arsenal's midfield has been a hot mess since losing Santi Cazorla to long-term injury in November but rather than representing a possible solution, there is a danger Wilshere could be a further complication; another player to muddy the water when what they really need is a reliable partnership.

It was one of the player's professed aims during his spell with Bournemouth that he was hoping to safeguard his England prospects. He earned a recall in November, but it will be illuminating to see whether Gareth Southgate will include him in the squad for next week's games against Germany and Lithuania given recent performances.

But a more fundamental decision looms in the summer. If Arsenal wouldn't want to sign a 25-year-old Bournemouth substitute with a lengthy history of injury problems, it must cast doubt on whether they really need him in their squad.

Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport


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