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'Blame the players, not Wenger'

Sunday, 16 December 2012 - 1:08pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Jack Wilshere says the team must take responsibility for Arsenal's form slump.

The storm clouds feel almost permanently set in above the Emirates Stadium these days but, shining brightly again amid the gloom, at least one ray of light cannot be dimmed. Jack Wilshere is back and, amid the recriminations and fall-out from Arsenal's Capital One Cup exit against Bradford on Tuesday night, two rather important facts were overlooked.

Wilshere had not only stood up physically to the test of 120 minutes in freezing conditions just three days after his previous game, but he had also been the best player on the pitch in both matches. "We have got our young old Jack back," noted Arsene Wenger.

In truth, Arsenal have got much more than that. At this difficult time, Wilshere is a symbol of hope, optimism and ambition. A rare world-class talent who is committed to the club's direction and still certain of its potential to regularly win trophies under Wenger. Above all, they also

have a believer who is actually ready to commit his long-term future to the club.

Negotiations on a new contract have been progressing well and Wilshere is poised to sign a five-year deal worth pounds 80,000 a week. "I'm talking to the club and I probably will be committing my future to the club in the next couple of weeks," he said. "I know the team are going through a bad spell at the moment, but that's like any team.

"We can get back to being the force we were. We've been in a transition stage where we've lost a lot of big players over the past five years and we've brought in some big players, but they need time to adapt. If we can stick together as a team and be united over the next few years then we can really develop into a strong team."

That transition began during Wilshere's 17 months out of the team following ankle surgery. Having first been struck down at the end of a season in 2010-11 when the class of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Alex Song came so close to winning something,

he has looked on and seen the core of a vastly promising team ripped out. That must surely have been dispiriting?

"Yeah, it was hard to take," he said. "But then you see the players they're bringing in. That makes it a lot easier to know that the club are still wanting to challenge for everything.

"Over the past few years the top players have probably thought they don't see a bright future at Arsenal but I think it's different for them. They were a bit older than me. I'm 20, I've still got a long way to go, touch wood, in my career.

"Players like Robin are older and maybe he thought, 'I haven't got time any more'. Cesc wanted to go home, which was understandable. There were many reasons why the different players left. For me, I'm young. There's the likes of Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs, who are still really young. In the next three or four years they can become top, top players and we can challenge for everything."

With Fabregas and Van Persie gone, Wilshere is already the indisputable playing face of Arsenal and it seems inevitable that he will eventually become captain.

"I'd like to one day. I've been here since I was nine and I know the traditions. I'm not saying I'm ready now, but one day."

When we met last week at an EA Sports Fifa 13 Ultimate Team event it was the morning after the humiliating night before in Bradford. Wilshere, though, was still measured in his analysis of what went wrong.

"We knew it was going to be tough," he said. "It's difficult for the foreign players, especially in their first season to come here and know what Bradford away is like. Maybe you think Bradford away is going to be easy but, trust me, it's not. It's quicker and maybe even more intense than the Premier League. They get up to you and close you down.

"If I went to Spain and we were playing a League Two side in Spain, maybe you'd think, 'Oh, they're not going to be that good and we'll just win', but no."

Wenger, says Wilshere, was entitled to be furious after the match. "He gets angry if we don't perform and he's entitled to get angry and dig players out if they're not pulling their weight." And so is Wenger still the man to take Arsenal forward?

"Every year we've been in the Champions League and there's no other manager who has done that," Wilshere said. "He's built a legacy at this club, he changed everything. He brought the Total Football to Arsenal.

"For me, there's no question he's the right man. When you have a few bad results I don't think you can start blaming the manager. The players have to look at themselves. The manager puts a team on the pitch and, if the players can't do it, it's not the manager's fault."

So if it is down to the players, do Arsenal have sufficient character and quality to turn things around? "There are leaders in the team and, maybe now, we need to step up and show we really are leaders." In that regard, Wilshere says that the prospective return of "the legend" Thierry Henry would give the whole club a lift. "We have to know our season's not over. I think we can still realistically win everything we're in. I know we're a long way behind in the Premier League but football changes quickly. We know in the Champions League anything can happen."

And what of 2013? Wilshere's first priority, understandably, is to remain injury free, but his second stated wish is for Arsenal to win a first trophy for eight years. "It's something we have to change, it's there and it just adds to the pressure," he said. "Maybe there's a mental block that we need to get over and, once we get our first one, it will all start to happen. It's too long for a club like Arsenal. We should be winning things. We've got good players. We used to in the past and there's no reason we can't in the future."
 


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