Walcott, Wilshire or Wright?
On the surface this is an easy question, the answer is Wright, right? But today I will take a look at 2 players who almost became Arsenal legends and one who did. Jack Wilshire, Theo Walcott and Ian Wright and show up some surprises along the way, I hope.
Wrightly so - A true legend
I reckon most of you are saying there is no comparison. In the list of 50 top players voted by Arsenal fans, Wright was number 4, and Walcott and Wilshire are nowhere to be found. https://www.arsenal.com/history/gunners-greatest-50-players
All suffered bad luck
Strangely enough, though, one area where they correlate is bad luck. Injuries curtailed and derailed Wiltshire and Walcott’s careers and Wright’s difficult upbringing, his inability to attract a top team when young, and strikers considered better than him for England, all conspired to make his career a long battle.
Walcott - exciting at his best
Both Walcott and Wilshire had better achievements for England. They had more caps, Walcott 47 and Wilshire 34 to Wright’s 33. Wright never made it to a major championship, the others did. Wright rarely played competitive matches, the others did. Both played underage international football, Wright didn’t. Wright, even at his best, was the backup for England. Even after their injuries, England managers were trying to put Wilshire and Walcott back in.
For Arsenal, Walcott and Wilshire were among the youngest players to make competitive debuts, Wright didn’t get there until he was almost 27. They were hailed as wunderkids, Wright was unknown as a teenager. Walcott still managed far more games for Arsenal than Wright, 397 to 288. Wilshire a respectable 197.
Could Wilshire have been as good as Vieira?
The one big difference, of course, between the legend and the nearly men, was injuries. We can all accept that both Wilshire and Walcott would have been Arsenal and England superstars without the injuries. They were truly superb, playing in big matches for the 2 sides and receiving huge acclaim. Walcott would surely have scored lots more goals and maybe even secured that striker role he so wanted. At 33, he could have surpassed Henry and still firing more in for Arsenal and England right now. Wilshire could have become the midfield maestro, dominating teams to this day while being accepted as a great in the Vieira mould. Both could be challenging Henry and Bergkamp for that top two position in the Arsenal great list.
At their best they were supreme
If you have watched these two at their best and most of you reading have, you know I am not talking nonsense. Injuries diminished their power, whether mentally or physically, or both, I am not sure. And so they are nearly men. It must be tragic for them to know that they were doing everything right, their careers progressing in an amazing way at a young age, making the step up to the big teams and having a huge impact, and then it all goes wrong through something they hadn’t got control of. Injuries can be the cruellest event in a footballer’s life. In fairness to both, they never stopped trying, and nor did Ian Wright.
Poor Ian never got a real chance at England
If Wilshire and Walcott’s hardest battles were with injuries, Wright’s were with life and football itself. He had to constantly pick himself off the floor to get his life back on track, from having a young baby as a teenager, to going to prison, to not making it at football trials, to being a black footballer when all they received was horrendous abuse, to being overlooked for England when he desperately wanted a real chance, to be used when it mattered.
Yin and yang
But perhaps his biggest piece of good fortune came, as in life it often does, in a mixture of good and bad luck. Bruce Rioch was appointed after George Graham’s meltdown with the bung scandal. He didn’t seem to like Wright and the feeling soon became mutual. He banished him to the wing and often didn’t play him. Now despite the perception that Rioch was a disaster, he actually improved Arsenal from 12th to 5th. In normal circumstances, he would never have been fired. But himself and David Dein (maybe deliberately so) didn’t get on, Arsene Wenger had already been lined up, and of course, David Dein was a big fan of Ian Wright. Arsene Wenger came in, Wright was restored, his career and trophies came back on track, and he even got 8 caps in 1997 and 4 goals, but again mostly in friendlies.
47 is a lot of caps for an injury prone footballer
If Rioch hadn’t been fired, I reckon he would have sold Wright that summer of 1996. He was almost 31, and other than Man Utd, all teams were downward for him. He would not have become quite the Arsenal legend, finished anywhere near 4th in our all time list and, like Walcott and Wilshire, maybe not even make an appearance there at all. And that could so easily have happened. So the bad luck at having Bruce Rioch brought in was followed immediately by Wenger, and the extraordinary improvements he made to the careers of the old pros he inherited.
Wenger was so important to all three
Wenger was crucial to the careers of Walcott and Wilshire. Walcott was bought in at 16 for big money for such a young player but had to spend some time in the academy, being helped along by Liam Brady and Wenger. The same with Wilshire, who was already in the academy. He gave both their chance very young and they were teenage prodigies. Their career could have been stratospheric if they had just normal injuries to contend with. They still managed good careers, lots of England caps, crucial Champions league matches and playing at the very top of football.
Ian Wright must look at such players breaking through as kids and say, I had to do everything in football the hard way, they had their career mapped out for them, given help at every step, I just had to never give up on my dream or I would never have made it.
Fight till you die
Credit must be given to Walcott and Wilshire though, because they never gave up, Walcott is still playing, and if someone offered Wilshire a chance, he would probably take it, as he has that never say die spirit. Coaching the Arsenal kids is a great job for him, as he can see every scenario in front of them, from rejection to huge acclaim, and he knows that the most important thing, is, like Ian Wright, belief in your ability. You must never give up.
Could Wilshire somehow conjure one last comeback for Arsenal?
Ian Wright overcome his mental struggles. For Walcott and Wilshire, maybe it was the injuries themselves that took the edge off their football abilities. I don’t believe it was their attitude. They have never stopped believing in themselves. I would love to see them have a last fling at the top with Arsenal. Possible? I doubt it, but in football you never know. Wilshire is there and seemingly in training he is amazing still. An injury crisis to midfielders and strikers, Wilshire gets thrown in, Walcott is brought back on loan, they fire Arsenal to the top and the fairytale is complete.
For me, I would be nearly as happy as they would be. Ian Wright, Jack Wilshire and Theo Walcott have brought me many ecstatic days. All will feel that they could have achieved more. Wright, if Arsenal had come when he was a teenager and England had seen his potential, and Walcott and Wilshire had not had their cruel injuries. But let’s celebrate 3 heroes of the Arsenal – the three W’s. They deserve a statue for their sheer grit and belief in themselves.