Jack must master his trade
Published 10/08/2014 | 02:30
ARSENE Wenger has challenged Jack Wilshere to make the forthcoming season "his year". The Arsenal manager alluded to the midfielder's frustrating injury problems by stating it was time for him to show the "consistency" needed at the top level by playing "six, seven [games] on the trot".
Wenger also claimed that Wilshere is finally over the chronic ankle problems that have hampered him since the midfielder made his first-team breakthrough at 16 years and 256 days to become the youngest player to feature for the club in a league match (against Blackburn Rovers).
"He was, until now, a doubt a little bit through injuries," Wenger said. "At the top level you need to be consistent with your presence. You can play six, seven, eight games and rest one or two but you have to play six, seven on the trot. I think he will be capable of doing it. He prepares well. He has no ankle problem any more. It could be his year."
It needs to be. Wilshere has endured a frustrating career so far - with 86 Arsenal appearances stretched over six years. Fears are growing that he might be in serious danger of failing to fulfil his potential as the most exciting, ball-carrying English midfielder since Paul Gascoigne.
Those fears have been fuelled by Wilshere's fitness issues and also concerns over his off-field habits, with photographs emerging after the World Cup of him smoking again.
Wilshere apologised for the incident in Las Vegas - which damagingly followed a similar apology for being caught smoking last year - and Wenger has expressed his disappointment.
Wilshere has also acknowledged that he needs to "prove himself", and returned to pre-season training early.
Wenger said: "It's the first time I've seen him not miss a session since the start of the [pre-season] preparations. It's an important year for Jack. Very important."
Although clearly an attempt to encourage Wilshere, Wenger's words also serve as a warning to the player, with the competition to feature in the Arsenal midfield fiercer than ever. Wilshere's best route into the Arsenal first team could be as a holding midfielder - even though Wenger has suggested he would prefer not to use him in that role.
Wilshere does not merely need to settle on a regular run of first-team appearances but, as a natural consequence, a role in a starting XI which is congested with midfield talent. Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky are vying to be the creative font. Theo Walcott is soon to return from injury, while new signing Alexis Sanchez can play in a number of positions.
Former Arsenal captain Tony Adams believes the signing of Ozil should have been seen as both a threat and a spur by Wilshere. "He should have taken it as a personal insult that Arsenal went and signed Ozil when they already had the same talent.
"Had they bought a German centre-half in my playing days I'd have wanted to prove I'm head and shoulders better - that's what Jack must do with Ozil."
The problem for Wilshere is that much of the talk is now more in hope than expectation and that, in itself, is damaging. In his last round of contract talks, Wilshere informed Wenger that he wanted to captain Arsenal one day - but the bigger task he faces is simply holding down a regular place.
While Wilshere made England's World Cup squad he only started the dead rubber against Costa Rica and is in danger of being usurped by Ross Barkley.
Wilshere also provoked criticism from Paul Scholes and from one of Wenger's predecessors as Arsenal manager, George Graham, who accused him of having a career that, so far, he has failed to kick on.
He will get his chance today in the Community Shield meeting with Manchester City. It is a contest that matters more to him than anyone else on that Wembley turf.
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