Arsenal vs Crystal Palace: Arsene Wenger leaps to defence of Jack Wilshere after midfielder is criticised by pundits

The midfielder was lacking sharpness due to illness, said Wenger

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The Independent Football

A new season is a time of hope, but it does not take long for doubts to intrude. They muscled their way in at Crystal Palace even before the opening day when Tony Pulis walked out. Saturday’s last-minute defeat at the Emirates intensified concerns. Palace were organised and spirited but the unresolved limitations in the playing staff, which appear to have prompted their erstwhile manager’s exit, were clear.

The furrowed brows were not restricted to the losers’ dressing room. Arsenal were delighted to snatch a late win but one of their players may have suffered dark thoughts.

Jack Wilshere was once England’s and Arsenal’s great hope. He has since been overtaken at club level by Aaron Ramsey and with his country by Ross Barkley. Paul Scholes criticised him last season for not “training on” and Jamie Carragher and Jamie Redknapp joined in the criticism on Sky after Saturday’s match. Ramsey, said Redknapp, was doing what Wilshere should be doing, seizing games by the scruff of the neck and winning them. Both men felt that, if everyone was fit, there would be no place for Wilshere in Arsenal’s starting XI. Which, with Barkley potentially out until Christmas, is not good news for Roy Hodgson.

Wilshere, after an ineffectual hour, was withdrawn on Saturday long before Arsenal won the match. This was, said Arsène Wenger, because the midfielder was short of sharpness due to illness last week. “He was sick in the last few days and I felt he started to miss his competitiveness,” said the manager. Wenger added that the criticism of Wilshere was “not fair”.

The 22-year-old has had a series of injuries in the last two years and Wenger said: “Let’s give him games, he has to build up slowly. The most important thing to him is not to have any problems with his ankle but it looks like he’s on the right way on that front. He looks sharper every week.”


Wilshere will need to maintain that improvement as Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski will soon be back in contention after an extended break following Germany’s World Cup success. They will join a pool of midfielders that besides Wilshere and Ramsey includes Mikael Arteta, the new captain, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini. With Alexis Sanchez playing an advanced role, that leaves nine players (plus Theo Walcott when fit) competing for four places.

Crystal Palace celebrate Brede Hangeland's goal on his debut to put the Eagles into the lead


Palace’s next manager can only dream of choosing from such quality. Steve Parish, the co-chairman, denied a dispute over transfer policy drove Pulis to quit but did concede “there were a lack of targets the manager felt were good enough”.

Parish said he hoped to make an appointment this week but all but dismissed caretaker boss Keith Millen’s application, made to the media after the match, when he told Match of the Day he wanted someone with “intimate experience” of the Premier League. Malky Mackay, sacked by Cardiff City last season, remains favourite.

One of the players Pulis and Parish did manage to bring in, Brede Hangeland, put Palace ahead before Laurent Koscielny and Ramsey gave Arsenal the victory.