Jack Wilshere joined Arsenal when he was nine. His long association with the Gunners came to an end this summer, however, when his contract was not renewed.
In July, he agreed a three-year contract with West Ham. The Irons were, in some ways, a perfect fit.
Staying in London was part of that, but the chance to work under Manuel Pellegrini was also important. Pellegrini was charged with bringing attacking football to the London Stadium, and his style of play seemed to suit Wilshere. The former Manchester City manager gives freedom to his midfielders, which is something Wilshere may not have got elsewhere.
Just two matches into the season, Wilshere returns to face his former teammates. West Ham have had a rough start to the campaign – losing their first two matches – and Wilshere has struggled to make an impact.
Pellegrini has a difficult task with his midfield trio, but Arsenal have their own issues in the middle third. Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka have been paired together by Unai Emery to start the season, but neither have really shone. Fortunately for Emery, West Ham do not pose quite the same threat as Manchester City or Chelsea.
Wilshere is the one West Ham player who can take hold of a match (or at least he’s supposed to be able to). The move across London is meant to be the kick-start of Wilshere’s career, and there’s no better place to prove people wrong than in front of the fans that supported him through all those injuries.
Arsenal’s midfield is vulnerable. Xhaka and Guendouzi are not good defenders, and will struggle to deal with Wilshere carrying the ball in the middle third. West Ham’s challenge is getting enough possession to allow Wilshere to run with the ball in transition.
West Ham’s midfield will be a long-running issue for Pellegrini this season. Wilshere cannot do it all alone, but there’s no doubt his performances need to improve for the Hammers to get anywhere near the top half. That is only likely to happen if Wilshere is given a settled role to play in the side.
Despite playing for the underdog this weekend, there’s a lot of pressure on the England international. These are the matches where he needs to shine to force his way back into the England squad and become recognised as a top six calibre player again.
Wilshere’s career has split opinion like few others. Arsenal, particularly Arsene Wenger, stood by him as an integral part of their squad through the long injury absences and gave him minutes when other top clubs may not have done. His career might not be quite where many expected it to be, but his return to the club he called home for over a decade is a great opportunity to remind everyone why there was so much excitement about him.
West Ham, without something special from Wilshere, could be in for a difficult afternoon against Arsenal. Emery’s side have been less than perfect at the back but, as we saw against Chelsea, they are a force to be reckoned with offensively.
All eyes will be on Wilshere this Saturday. Pellegrini needs his main midfield acquisition to live up to his lofty reputation and contribute in all phases of the game.