Jack Wilshere's fall at Arsenal may be Roy Hodgson's gain for England
Jack Wilshere's descent down the Arsenal pecking order since the arrival of Mesut Özil and renaissance of Aaron Ramsey could be a blessing in disguise for England. That is the view of Roy Hodgson, and while it is an unofficial part of the job spec for England managers to see a silver lining in every cloud, there is sense in his outlook.
Wilshere has not had the best of week's after being caught smoking, but he had already been shunted to the left flank following £42m Özil's purchase and was dropped to the bench for last week's Champions' League tie with Napoli. And this is before Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain return to fitness.
Wilshere had a poor match for England in Ukraine last month, but is expected to be in the team against Montenegro at Wembley on Friday and play a major role for England should they reach the World Cup in Brazil.
Wilshere has, however, a history of injuries, especially to his ankles, sometimes aggravated through over-playing. When it was put to Hodgson that he could be in better shape for England come June if he is not expected to play every match for Arsenal, the manager responded: "That's a good point, he missed a lot of football over that year–and-a-half then he had to have another operation. For a young man he's had an awful lot of serious injury problems and it may well be right [that playing less may be beneficial]."
In 2010-11, Wilshere's first season as an Arsenal regular, he played in 54 games for club and country. Still a teenager, he was, manager Arsène Wenger said, "in the red zone" by the end. He then suffered a stress fracture and missed all the following season before returning last October. He managed another 35 games in the remaining 29 weeks of the season despite further ankle problems that forced another operation during the summer.
"In the past," added Hodgson, "it's possible that everyone believed in him so strongly, not only England but Arsenal, you could argue he had to play a lot of games, but Arsène manages that very well and that will help England to some extent."
For all Wilshere's long-term importance, Hodgson believes it is his senior players who will be key against Montenegro on Friday and Poland next Tuesday. England need to win both to be certain of reaching the World Cup finals.
"I make no bones that this is a game for the experienced players who are capable of accepting that responsibility," he said. "That doesn't mean to say that the younger players we've got couldn't make an appearance, but they're not the ones who should be asked to take responsibility for the result. That is going to be on my shoulders and the experienced players."
That responsibility, Hodgson added, "does weigh on players" but he noted it will weigh on the players of England's rivals too. Come the night he is confident they will handle it, and do so with a steely quietness. There was a time when Terry Butcher of Tony Adams would be thumping the walls and rousing team-mates, but not now, and Hodgson did not have a problem with that.
" I don't think players appreciate Churchillian speeches these days," he said. "We're talking about players who play Champions' League finals, matches in front of 60,000 every week. Every time they step on the pitch there's a lot of responsibility for them. Tub-thumping is not necessary. Players have their own way of preparing. There's a concentration in that dressing room and a determination to do the job properly.
"Sometimes I think the screamers and the shouters... I wonder who they're shouting for? The desire has got to come from within you, and you have to know you can do it."England players, Hodgson believes, have the desire and the skill. Now they need to show they have the nerve
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