It's tricky to overstate the importance of Jack Wilshere to Arsenal's hopes of success this season, and the worry created amongst Gunner's fans when the midfielder went off injured against Sunderland gives an indication of how vital he is to the side.
Fortunately for Arsenal, Wilshere's injury will only keep him out for a few days, but it demonstrates how carefully they have to look after him in the next few months. Arsene Wenger was understandably angry to see Wilshere play 90 minutes for England in the friendly against Brazil last week, and with the midfielder only recently returned from a lengthy lay off, it would be unexpected to see him regularly produce 90 minutes in upcoming matches.
Wilshere is already and established star, but he is only 21, and he will have an incredible amount of pressure to deal with over the rest of the season. Not only is a club as big as Arsenal relying on his impetus to get them into the Champions League, he is now a core figure for his country, and playing both these roles whilst still not fully match fit.
The worry is that he will burn out before the end of season, and the nightmare scenario would be that he picks up another major injury as a result. Arsene Wenger is no doubt keen to rest Wilshere as much as possible, but with so many important games coming up, the 21 year old will have to feature twice in a week on several occasions.
After the FA cup tie against Blackburn this weekend, Arsenal's next five matches sees them play Bayern Munich twice, Everton, Aston Villa, and Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Simply put, there's very little chance that Arsenal will be able to keep a player as important as Wilshere on the bench during those games, and there's even less chance that Wilshere will give anything less than 100% when on the pitch.
Given his talent, Wilshere can fulfil the massive expectations placed upon him when he's on the pitch, but whether he can take the physical strain over the next few weeks could be the key factor in Arsenal's season. If the 21 year old stays fit, Wenger's side should be well set, and that expectation alone is a heavy burden for such a young player.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald