Arsenal's transfer plans this summer will be determined by Jack Wilshere. His potential fitness and more importantly, his best role in the team, will decide who Arsenal sign.
Many consider Wilshere the crown jewel of this current Arsenal squad. He is young, tenacious and competent in possession.
The problem is nobody seems quite able to decide what his best position is. Arsene Wenger struggled with this question all through last season.
He began by playing Wilshere in a deeper role, alongside Mikel Arteta. Wenger gave Wilshere license to break forward and support advanced playmaker Santi Cazorla.
However, that plan never quite worked, as Wilshere and Cazorla often got in each other's way. Wenger's solution was to move Wilshere into the advanced position at the top of his midfield trio.
Cazorla was shifted out to the left flank to accommodate the switch. Despite some fine performances, notably in an FA Cup replay against Swansea City, Wilshere was not a major success.
He struggled in the role of Arsenal's chief creator. As a result, the flow and quality of Arsenal's forward play suffered.
When niggling injury concerns again struck, Wenger promoted veteran schemer Tomas Rosicky. With Rosicky in place of Wilshere, Arsenal's attacking game showed some initial improvement.
The question is what does Wenger do with Wilshere now? If he keeps him in the main playmaker position, Wenger will be taking a huge gamble.
He will be trusting that Wilshere can suddenly find the knack for seeing and playing defence-splitting passes. This ability to play between the lines is what has always defined Wenger's vision of attacking football.
It is what Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and Cesc Fabregas all brought to Wenger's best teams. Wilshere has so far failed to show the technical acumen to be the central creative fulcrum Arsenal need.
He has also struggled to pose anything like a credible goal-scoring threat. Wilshere has netted only five senior goals.
Yet Wenger may feel that given more time, Wilshere can become the right type of No.10. After all, he is a neat and quick passer and his skill and control gliding past defenders is excellent.
Certainly, Fabregas was no prolific goal scorer early in his Arsenal career. However, Wenger's patience and tutelage allowed the Spanish maestro to blossom into one.
If Wilshere remains as the central attacking midfielder, Wenger should leave Cazorla on the left. That would hopefully give Arsenal a dual-creative threat in advanced areas.
It would also make transfer priorities clearer. Wenger could then opt for a more defensive-minded midfielder to partner Arteta deep.
With extra protection in front of the back four, Wilshere could concentrate all his efforts on being more of a force going forward.
That is one possibility. But is Wilshere really ready to be Arsenal's next Fabregas? After all, he is an efficient, rather than an imaginative passer.
Wilshere does not waste possession in short spaces. His low-risk distribution and quick movement could be more useful in deeper areas.
Wilshere's tough and willing tackling style is another reason to perhaps play him deeper. Wenger may decide he fits best as a halfway line player, just in front of Arteta.
From there, Wilshere could dictate the flow of passing and break up attacks. The only problem would be that a two-man midfield base of Arteta and Wilshere would lack physical power.
That would be an issue against big, marauding midfielders. However, if Wenger did drop Wilshere deep, he could move Cazorla back into the middle.
Despite some key contributions from the left, many would argue Cazorla belongs in a central position. He has more aptitude for the kind of clever through passes forwards like Theo Walcott thrive on.
That move would give Wenger two options. He could buy a new left-sided forward for his front three. This player might be more direct and add greater firepower to the Gunners' attack.
Alternatively, he could fill the position with a winger, or more natural midfielder. This would provide creative support for Cazorla.
A third choice might be to leave Cazorla on the left and purchase a new central schemer, an updated model of Fabregas. Even acquiring a more creative-minded central striker like Stevan Jovetic, could help.
Finding the right balance and boosting Arsenal's creativity, should be the priorities for Wenger this summer. They both depend on Wilshere's role and fitness.
Consistent ankle problems sidelined him for over a year and recurred at the end of the season. He faces 'minor surgery' this summer.
A return to full fitness is expected, but finding his right position is the key. Wenger must have a clear idea for how to best use Wilshere. His entire summer transfer plans depend on it.1020652