Arsène Wenger insisted yesterday that he is "certain" Jack Wilshere can be an even better player when he returns to the Arsenal first team after an ankle injury. Wilshere's last competitive game for the Gunners was in May 2011 but he returned to full training this week.
When the Arsenal manager was asked if it was possible that Wilshere might return to his former level, his answer was unambiguous. "It is not possible, it is certain," Wenger said. "He will be a better player. If you have this kind of injury at the age of 20 you will take off again and move forward normally. If you have the injury after the age of 25 it is different. At his age it is no problem."
Wilshere is still only 20 years old and Wenger said that he was confident the midfielder would soon put behind him an injury that is not uncommon for players of his age. "He will be an international player and he will have to cope," Wenger said of the time Wilshere has missed. "He is a very strong guy, he had a stress fracture and that happens many times to young players. Between the ages of 18 to 20, 60 per cent of them have stress fractures."
Wenger said that Wilshere's case was different from Eduardo, who was never the same player again after breaking his ankle in 2008. "Eduardo has limitation of his ankle [in its range of motion]," Wenger explained. "Jack has no limitation of his ankle, it was just a fracture. Eduardo had a rupture of his ligaments and in construction they had to tie his ankle up, so once you lose the flexibility of your ankle you are, of course, not the same player. That is not the case for Jack."
Wilshere will train for 10 days before he returns for Arsenal Under-21s, who play at West Bromwich Albion on 1 October and at home against Reading one week later. Wenger said that it may take him some time to reach his old level. "After three months competition for sure he would be back [at his best]," Wenger predicted. "It takes some while to find the little burst again.
"What he's gone through will make him stronger. It's a good test for your mental strength. I always thought he would come back. He has had ups and downs. He was focused, especially in the last three months. We have to be a bit cautious. We need to manage him well. He needs a few games in the reserves."
Wenger was not quite as confident about the future of Theo Walcott, who is in the last year of his contract at Arsenal. The manager suggested that if there was a no new deal before Christmas it would be much harder for him to stay.
"I still hope to sign him," Wenger said of Walcott, "and the next two months will be vital because after that, the longer this situation lasts the more difficult it is. Let's hope we can find a solution in the next two months." Wenger did say that Arsenal could afford to keep him for the rest of the season even if he did not sign a new deal, should they choose to.
Arsenal travel to Manchester City tomorrow afternoon confident after three consecutive wins in all competitions. Lukas Podolski, the Germany forward bought from Cologne this summer, has started to score and Wenger is impressed with him. "He's a very sociable guy, always a smile on his face," Wenger said. "Believe me, he is a clinical finisher. He has experience, he is calm and when he gets a chance, you think that will be a goal."
Changing times: Wilshere's absence
Arsenal line-up when Jack Wilshere last featured: 22 May 2011, Fulham (a) D 2-2 (4-4-2): Szczesny; Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Gibbs (Eboue, 64); Nasri, Diaby (Arshavin, 64), Wilshere, Ramsey (Walcott, 64); Chamakh, Van Persie.
Arsenal line-up in last league game: 15 September 2012, Southampton (h) W 6-1 (4-2-1-3): Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Coquelin (Ramsey, 67); Cazorla; Ox-Chamberlain, Gervinho (Walcott, 74), Podolski (Giroud, 75)