Wilshere keeps eyes on bigger prize after players' award
Arsenal '100 per cent' still in league battle, midfielder declares in build-up to derby
As is the tradition at the Professional Footballers' Association dinner, even the stars of the show are obliged to take some stick from the comedian who does a turn just before the awards are handed out, and on Sunday night Gareth Bale and Jack Wilshere were not spared.
This time it was the comedian Jack Whitehall who pondered which of the two from Bale, the PFA's Player of the Year, and Wilshere, the PFA's Young Player of the Year, would have the best career in the long term. He concluded that it was likely to be Bale "because Jack has chosen to play for England while Gareth has decided to take his summers off".
Even the Bale family table, patriotic Welshmen and women all, found that one funny. Tomorrow night, however, will give the opportunity to draw even closer comparison between these young talents in a game that means so much for both their respective clubs. The north London derby does not need much revving up at the best of times but this one is even bigger than usual.
Having walked off the pitch at the Emirates just hours earlier, after Arsenal had dropped two points in the 12th minute of injury time against Liverpool, Wilshere explained on Sunday night why he still believed that his club could win the title. On the other side of the ballroom, Bale said that victory for Spurs was crucial to keeping their Champions League place. The stakes tomorrow are high.
Wilshere is the youngest recipient of his award since Michael Owen in 1998, but it is impossible not to notice the steel-clad determination of a player who has been marked out as a prodigy for years. He said he believed "100 per cent" that Arsenal could still reel Manchester United in despite having just six games left with a six-point deficit. "If we don't believe," Wilshere said, "then what chance have we got?
"We are confident they will drop points. They still have to come to the Emirates [on 1 May] and if we beat them... maybe we can put them on a bad run. We have to start winning. We know that. We have six cup finals left.
"Obviously, it [Arsenal's run of seven points from the last five games] is difficult to accept. As you said it has been a good season for me, but I would rather win the Premier League, to be honest. It would be bigger for the club. Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted with this award. I just hope we can do it with Arsenal.
"It would mean a lot for me to do it with my team-mates. They have been great and this is down to them as well and the manager. If we could win one with them it would be a dream come true. It has been frustrating. I can't really say what it is, no one knows. We are still in it, we feel. There are six points in it and we have got to beat them [United]. We are still in there."
It may be that this year at Arsenal will have to be remembered as the breakthrough for Wilshere alone, which is some consolation for what is looking like the sixth consecutive season without a trophy. Wilshere said that he wanted to be back at the ceremony one day "to win the main [PFA] one". He also said that there was no issue of him leaving this summer, although he could not make the same guarantee for everyone.
"I know [with Arsenal winning the league] everyone says 'If it isn't this year, it'll be next year', but there are young players in there like myself, Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs coming through," he said. "Even players like Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas are still young. The future is good for Arsenal if we can keep hold of these players. Obviously, we know the big players in a team like Cesc and Samir want to win things and we have to start producing things, we know that."
It was Bale who scored the winner against Arsenal at White Hart Lane towards the end of last season in their first league win against the old enemy since 1999. Now they can do their first league double over Arsenal since 1993. Last season their win over Arsenal in April was followed by victories over Chelsea and Manchester City that took Spurs into the Champions League.
Bale said it was "massive" that Spurs qualified for the Champions League again this season. "We knew it would be even harder this season because City have spent a lot of money, and so have Chelsea. We are up for the challenge. We've only got the league to focus on now and we will give it our all to the end of the season.
"It's been a long time [since Spurs did the league double over Arsenal] and now we've got a great chance to do that. We've already won at their place and now we're playing them at White Hart Lane, where the fans are unbelievable. The atmosphere will be rocking and it's the sort of game that everybody dreams of playing in. It will be a night to remember if we win and do the double to help us climb up the table."
Both Bale and Wilshere were winners on Sunday but tomorrow will be different. "Arsenal v Tottenham is massive for the fans. It's the one they want to win all year," Wilshere said. "We have to put [the Liverpool result] behind us and we have to go to Tottenham and not just do it for the fans but do it for ourselves, to keep our title hopes alive."
EVERY SECOND COUNTS: REFEREE'S 12-MINUTE RULING
Arsène Wenger was furious with the officials for allowing Dirk Kuyt's equalising penalty for Liverpool against Arsenal on Sunday, saying that after a minimum of eight minutes of added time had been indicated, a penalty scored in the 102nd minute ought not to have counted.
But the time added beyond the initial allocation is at the discretion of the referee and Andre Marriner had enough stoppages within the first eight minutes to make up the time in which Kuyt scored. There were 63 seconds between the penalty award for Arsenal and Robin van Persie's scoring it, and another 46 between the penalty and the restart. Another two minutes' stoppage time followed the award of a Liverpool free-kick and its taking by Luis Suarez.
From that point, there had been sufficient time lost within the initial eight minutes for Marriner to legitimately allow play into the 102nd minute, when Kuyt scored.
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