the main news this morning is that Jack’s back, baby. Jack’s back. The Wilshere played for just over an hour as Arsenal U21s lost 1-o at West Brom but the result isn’t even vaguely important or relevant this morning. Apparently he told reporters he was ‘shattered’ after the game, which is completely understandable given the length of time he’s been out.
There were some nice touches and some heavy touches, signs of the rustiness that will be part and parcel of his game for some time to come, but the most important thing was getting him back out onto the pitch and beginning the process that will see him make his first team comeback. Wilshere’s big mate, Emmanuel Frimpong, said:
I’m happy for him to be back playing with the team again and to see a smile on his face. After 14 months out, he did very well and he can be pleased with his performance.
When you’ve been out for so long, it’s only natural you’re going to be tired. He needs more games to get fit. I think the England and Arsenal fans should be excited to see him back again.
Well, I’m not concerned one bit about England fans but it’s a boost to have Jack moving closer to the first team again. We all know his qualities and the fact that he’s still so young means he’s got a lot of catching up to do. His development will have been stunted by the time he’s missed but I’m sure he’ll be ready and willing to make up for that.
On the other side he does look fit. Clearly months and months of gym worked has toned his physique and at this point there’s only the rustiness to his game and making sure he doesn’t fall foul to the curse of the niggly injury that many players seem to suffer after a long spell out of the game. The good thing, if you can call it that, is that unlike Ramsey, Diaby or Eduardo, he didn’t suffer a traumatic injury from which he has to recover and, in Diaby’s case, something he has to physically compensate for.
And if anyone thinks all that time on the sidelines might have dulled his combative edge, there’s a nice story about him and Arteta going for it in training in this Guardian piece, while Frimpong himself says he’s given Wilshere ‘a few testers’. All of which, if it doesn’t break him, will help him prepare for competitive football again because no opponent is going to hold back just because he’s been out of the game for a while. Quite the opposite in fact, and without that confidence of knowing his body is strong and able to take the knocks it’d be impossible to reach the level he needs to.
So, all in all, a good first step back but let’s not be under any illusions that he might waltz into the team this weekend or anything. There’ll be another couple of reserve games in the next few weeks, there’s an Interlull to contend with and, all going well, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s an unofficial penciling-in for the Capital One Cup game against Reading at the end of the month.
Elsewhere, as we prepare ourselves for Olympiacos tomorrow night (team news and other bits and pieces will emerge as the day goes on, there will be a press conference later), there were some interesting quotes from Manuel Almunia in the Times yesterday. He talked about his curious relationship with Jens Lehmann which was non-existent on the pitch but fine off it:
He didn’t hate me, but Jens is the kind of person who, when someone tries to take his place, he fights and fights and fights to recover it. He’s very competitive and I just got in the way.
I love that attitude and I suspect it’s especially strong in a player who is reaching the end of his career. His desire to play and succeed is exacerbated by the fact he knows he’s got a finite amount of time left and he’s not going to let anyone stand in his way. Anyway, Manuel went on to critique the keepers at the club citing Szczesny as the one with the most potential but, interestingly, suggesting he needed to mature and to ‘think twice’ before doing certain things.
I mentioned yesterday that Wenger’s talk of Mannone as number 1 was meant as a fillip for the Italian, but similarly it’s a pointed message to Szczesny that when he’s fit and available again he’s got to produce on a consistent basis if he wants to retain the position of number 1 keeper at the club. There’s a cockiness to the Pole which is, in some ways, necessary to be a great keeper, but that has to be backed by performances and not just because you find yourself as the top man more or less by default.
I think he’s got bags of potential but the reason he’s number 1 at Arsenal at this stage of his career is because Fabianski has been at first unconvincing and then injury prone for the last 12-18 months. Mannone, honest and all as he is, isn’t serious competition for that place and I think Wenger and Szczesny both know that. But after a summer in which he lost his place in the Polish national team in a tournament in his home country, and then dropping a clanger in his last appearance for us, it’s time for him to show he’s got what it takes when he comes back and that he can stay fit more often than not.
Otherwise, this is an area at which we should look during a transfer window and you do have to wonder if Szczesny could have benefited from a bit of mentoring, understudying to a more senior keeper before making the step up. Anyway, it is what it is at the moment and hopefully he’ll realise what a fantastic opportunity he has and makes the most of it.
Final interesting bit from Manuel:
I went from being No 1 to No 3 almost overnight, but I tried not to think about it. Maybe I should have left one year earlier, but I had a contract that was too good to refuse.
There’ll be no criticism from me about that. Why would anyone not see out a lucrative contract? But it’s another example of why we have to take steps to make our wage structure better. Continuing to overpay players because X earns more than Y in comparison doesn’t make any sense. You can’t identify a problem, complain about it, then demand that said problem be amplified by continuing to do the same thing. Benchmarking is fine once you’re doing it from the right place. Hopefully we can adjust but it won’t be easy as certain current situations show.
Right, we’ll have all the news throughout the day over on Arseblog News, press conference quotes and what have you, more here tomorrow with a preview of the Champions League game. Until then.