Is Jack Wilshere back to his best? It doesn't matter, it's enough that he's back
The postmatch interview supplied another highlight after what had been a captivating performance by Arsenal in a 3-2 victory over Crystal Palace. "Are you back to your best yet?" asked the reporter. "They love that question," joked goal scorer Shkodran Mustafi. "Yeah, every week," replied a grinning Jack Wilshere, who had just provided the latest evidence of his return to form.
The yearning among Arsenal fans for Wilshere to become the player he once was, expressed in the interviewer's question, is overwhelming. He may never quite recapture the stardust which successive injuries have shaken off his vulnerable frame. But in a practical and immediate sense neither Arsenal nor Wilshere need that imponderable to be resolved. Right now, it is enough that Wilshere is performing to a high level and is currently one of the most effective members of the Arsenal team.
It is enough that when Arsenal and Wilshere finally sit down to discuss extending his contract after the Premier League match against Chelsea on Jan. 3, the club recognise the importance of reaching an agreement. With Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez likely to leave on free transfers, Arsenal cannot afford to lose another player of prominence. Wonderfully renewed prominence at that.
The win at Palace witnessed one of Wilshere's most convincing performances yet this season. There was a glorious assist for Sanchez as he picked out a perfect 30-yard lofted pass for the forward to run onto and score. But also an all-round display of high quality where he "recorded the best passing accuracy percentage of any starter (93.8 percent), won as many fouls (7) as the entire Palace side combined, while no player regained possession more times (11)."
This was not the performance of an injury-ravaged player trying to find that old spark from deep within themselves: it was that of a highly-evolved Premier League midfielder at the top of their game. The legs might not be quite as willing as they once were when he skipped through midfield as a teenager, but Wilshere was always looking for that quick burst of pace or switch of direction to penetrate the midfield lines.
It felt like the culmination of his recovery this season. A fourth Premier League start in a row and his best performance yet. Wilshere's return to form -- first in the more forgiving arena of the midweek cup matches and now, increasingly, in the league too thanks to Aaron Ramsey's injury -- has been one of the most heartening threads of Arsenal's campaign. The constant refrain of "super Jack" from the stands has been met with some super performances.
The looming threat of long-term injury is always lurking in the background with Wilshere and it will be some time before he can engage in one of his typically enthusiastic challenges without half a stadium wincing. But Wilshere is, tentatively, back. It is some turnaround.
The main reservation about his time spent on loan at Bournemouth last season was that you wouldn't have considered signing him based on his performances there. But using similar logic, if Wilshere was currently on a six-month trial contract Arsenal would be doing everything in their power to sign him to a longer contract, for fear of rival clubs stealing him away.
By the time Wilshere's contract talks get underway, after Jan. 3, it could technically be too late. He could already have signed a pre-contract deal with a foreign club to leave Arsenal in the summer. Possible, but unlikely. His intention seems to be to stay and Wenger appears to have firmly moved in that direction too.
Before the Palace victory, the manager seemed to suggest that only financial disagreements would imperil any potential deal. Yet the longer things drag on, and the better Wilshere plays, the greater negotiating power the 25-year-old will have. A quick and positive end to talks would serve the club well.
Is he back to his best? It's a question which might get asked a few more times this season and maybe it will never be sufficiently answered. But all that really matters for Arsenal is that Wilshere is a player of substance and quality again; a player worth having in the squad and the team; a player who can play in multiple positions and bring something different; a player certainly worth tying down to a brand new contract.
Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport