Jack Wilshere's return to Emirates a sideshow as Unai Emery era needs a kickstart
Saturday promises to be a strange day for Jack Wilshere. When he arrives at the Emirates, he will be directed away from the home dressing room and into the visiting team's area. When he runs out on to the field, he will do so not as an Arsenal man, but as a West Ham player. This will be the day when Wilshere and the Arsenal fans face up to the reality of their summer split and when Unai Emery's decision to cut him loose will come under scrutiny.
After all, there is little doubt about who decided to let Wilshere go. Arsenal's summer squad building may largely have been shaped by head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, but it was Emery who told Wilshere he was unlikely to get enough game time with Arsenal.
It seems one of the Spaniard's first actions as Arsenal manager was to effectively call time on the academy product's tenure with the club. Since letting Wilshere go, Emery has attempted to reconfigure his midfield. However, his first two matches in charge of the club suggest he has not yet settled on an appropriate formula. Arsenal's new head coach has made a number of changes to his side across those two games, including leaving Aaron Ramsey out for the trip to Chelsea.
The West Ham game could see another change to the composition of Emery's midfield, with a first start on the cards for Lucas Torreira. The Uruguayan arrived from Sampdoria this summer, but his prolonged World Cup participation has meant a slow start to his Arsenal career. He came off the bench against both Manchester City and Chelsea, and is surely now ready to play from kick-off.
The latest fall guy is likely to be Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international was hooked at half-time at Stamford Bridge, and may find his days as an automatic starter are numbered. It's difficult to imagine dropping teenage midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, who has been a revelation since arriving from Lorient. The manner in which Emery dealt with Wilshere shows he does not indulge egos and reputations, and Xhaka may be about to discover just how ruthless he can be.
On paper, a partnership of Torreira and Guendouzi has the mobility that Wilshere simply wasn't able to offer Arsenal anymore. It feels telling that since moving to West Ham, he has played exclusively as a No.10. That deployment feels like a tacit admission that he is no longer able to withstand the maelstrom of the midfield.
Guendouzi's involvement in the first team has doubtless helped smooth over any acrimony the fans felt over Wilshere's departure. They have another young talent to pin their hopes on now and this one would appear to be significantly more durable than Wilshere ever was.
As well as establishing a partnership in midfield, the West Ham match might see Emery experiment with a new pairing up front. Like Torreira, Alexandre Lacazette has emerged from the bench in Arsenal's first two Premier League fixtures. In a match where the onus will be on the Gunners to attack, it's possible that he will be installed alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with the Gabonese forward shifting out to the flank to accommodate Lacazette. A more balanced midfield might enable Emery to load more attacking power into his XI.
Wilshere's return is ultimately something of a sideshow. After all, there are more pressing matters at hand for both West Ham and Arsenal. After two games, neither side has managed to record a single point. Arsenal need a win here to provide Emery and his methods with some validation. The players appear to be buying into his strategies, but his authority will be strengthened by results. If the squad see their training ground work converting into victories, their resolve will naturally increase.
There will be no one more motivated than Wilshere to impress on Saturday. However, for Arsenal and Emery, the incentive is clear. Not only would a comprehensive victory give Emery the injection of positive momentum he requires, it could also prove him right about his decision to let Wilshere go.