Arsenal have raised the stakes in their campaign to persuade the Football Association not to take Jack Wilshere to the Under-21s European Championships next month by disclosing playing-time statistics that they believe make him a severe injury risk.
The Under-21s manager, Stuart Pearce, will name his 23-man squad for the tournament on Monday and has indicated to the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, this week that Wilshere will be included – although the Liverpool striker Andy Carroll will not. However, the situation is changing day to day with Wilshere himself becoming increasingly concerned that he could do himself long-term damage by playing.
Staff at Arsenal have compiled a report on Wilshere's Prozone statistics, the computer software that tracks players' total movements for a game, as well as medical reports on his condition. They believe that the evidence shows that Wilshere is so exhausted from his 48-game season – his first full campaign at Arsenal – that he is in danger of sustaining a long-term injury.
Sports scientists at Arsenal say that Wilshere has shown a "significant dip" in recent weeks. Indeed, a virtual ever-present for most of the season, he was substitute for the game against Spurs on 20 April. Wilshere's Prozone statistics reveal that he has covered much less ground than he did during the course of a game in recent weeks than he did at the start of the season.
Arsenal have made the case to the FA that Wilshere needs rest next month and a carefully considered pre-season training programme to prepare him for the rigours of next season and – providing England qualify – the Euro 2012 tournament that will follow the domestic season next summer.
Should he play for the Under-21s this summer he will virtually go from the senior England team's 4 June Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland straight into pre-tournament preparation with the Under-21s who play their first game against Spain on 12 June.
In the lingua franca of sports scientists, Wilshere is in the "red zone" when fatigue puts him at the greatest risk of injury. Wenger once said that one of his biggest regrets as Arsenal manager was playing Robert Pires in a game against Newcastle in March 2002 when his instincts told him that the player was tired. Pires ruptured his cruciate knee ligaments in that game.
Up until now it has been Wilshere's insistence that he wants to play in the Under-21s tournament that has been the decisive factor in the saga. Wenger is powerless either way – Fifa statutes on international football rule that clubs have to release players – but the suggestion that the player is now wavering is very telling.
The FA is understandably keen to have their best players at the tournament. In the aftermath of England's Euro 2012 qualifying win over Wales in March, Fabio Capello pointed out that the Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets, who won the World Cup with Spain last summer, had insisted on playing in next month's Under-21s championship in Denmark.
In addition, the Club England managing director, Adrian Bevington, responsible for all the FA's international teams, has pointed out on his Twitter page that the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Alessandro del Piero, among others, have all made appearances for their country's junior international teams subsequent to them winning their first senior cap.
In debate with Bevington, the former England international Gary Neville, who won 85 England caps, tweeted yesterday: "It's a lot to ask of players especially if we want them summer in, summer out but let's see. Wilshere is a player and needs care."
There are plans to allow Wilshere to have a four-week break after the tournament. However, his playing time during the season, 4,585 minutes on the pitch, is huge in comparison even to established senior England internationals. Over 48 games for Arsenal he has had more playing time than Ashley Cole, John Terry, Gareth Barry and Wayne Rooney.
In terms of his Under-21s peers, Wilshere has played more minutes than any other player Pearce is likely to pick in his squad on Monday. Wilshere has played more minutes than Daniel Sturridge (1,858) and Jack Rodwell (1,932) combined.
Arsenal are expected to keep up negotiations with Pearce and the FA over the weekend, with the Wilshere issue the reason for the delay in the squad announcement.
Wilshere's tiring season
*Number of minutes played this season
4,585 minutes (47 club games) Jack Wilshere
*Minutes played by Wilshere's fellow England under-21 players
3,681 mins (38 games) Jordan Henderson
2,885 mins (30 games) Micah Richards
2,813 mins (32 games) Chris Smalling
1,932 mins (27 games) Jack Rodwell
1,858 mins (32 games) Daniel Sturridge