Monday 22 April 2019

Wilshere: I feared for World Cup spot after Wenger snub

Arsenal and England player Jack Wilshere. Photo: PA
Arsenal and England player Jack Wilshere. Photo: PA

Jason Burt

Jack Wilshere has revealed how Arsene Wenger told him he probably did not have a future at Arsenal and could leave - and admitted he feared he had little chance of making England's World Cup squad.

In a frank conversation during pre-season training last summer, Wenger said Wilshere should consider looking for another club because he was not planning to offer the midfielder a new contract.

"It was an honest conversation," Wilshere explained. "We have known each other long enough where we can have that relationship where we are honest with each other. It was boiling up for a while because everybody knew I had a year left on my deal and I had been out on loan, got injured, and wasn't in his plans.

"He said, 'I am going to be honest with you. At the moment we are not going to be offering you a contract, so if you can get a contract somewhere else, you can go'. I was not happy, but at the same time I was happy he was being honest.

"He gave me the opportunity with three or four weeks left in the transfer window, but I did not find anything I wanted and I was not really fit, so I decided I wanted to stay and build up my fitness. He also said if I did stay I had an opportunity to fight for my place, and if I performed well in the Carabao Cup and Europa League, I had a chance."

The discussion did not take place in Wenger's office. "I was on the bike in the gym, so I didn't leave the room!" Wilshere said. "It was a strange one, because maybe part of me knew all this already - all I needed was some clarity on where I stood at the football club. It did make me think because he had said I could fight for my position. I always had confidence I could get back into the midfield if I got my fitness back and kept it - and I did."

There have been so many injuries, so many false dawns, so much frustration around the 26-year-old's career, but he has forced his way back into the Arsenal side and, with that, proven his fitness to Gareth Southgate, the England manager, to earn a recall for the friendlies against Holland and Italy as the countdown begins to the World Cup. Did Wilshere fear his chances of playing in Russia were over?

Confident "That is fair to say because I wasn't getting in the Arsenal team and the manager said I could leave if I wanted to," Wilshere said. "I did not know what was going to happen in the coming season."

Wilshere is yet to sign a new contract at Arsenal, who he joined aged nine, and now has little over three months left on his current deal. Talks have taken place but no agreement has been reached, after the club had asked Wilshere to accept a reduced basic salary.

Wilshere said it would not concern him if he went to the World Cup without an agreement. "I don't think it would be a distraction because this is one of the most important years of my career and if I had let the contract and my future go to my head, I would have probably left in January," Wilshere said. "I have got three months left on my contract. Ideally, yes, I want it sorted as soon as possible. I want to go to the World Cup and enjoy it, but we have three months until then and a lot can happen."

Wilshere appreciates the "faith" Wenger put in him. The fact he is producing his best form since his first serious injury in 2011 has raised the prospect of other big clubs coming in, with Gennaro Gattuso, the AC Milan coach, praising him after last week's Europa League tie. "He combines English grit with Spanish technique," Gattuso said. So would Wilshere consider eventually moving abroad?

"When I went to Bournemouth on loan, there were a few options from abroad [including an offer from Roma]. I felt it wasn't the right time because I'd missed too much Premier League football and I missed playing in the Premier League. But I wouldn't say no."

Wilshere has not played for England since their traumatic exit from Euro 2016 against Iceland.

"I never gave up," he said. "I never gave up hope I could do it again. I was in the squad 18 months ago and I didn't get the chance, but I've always felt like it's somewhere I belong and I want to be involved. Now I have to stake my claim."

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