Arsène Wenger has approved Fabio Capello’s plan to give Jack Wilshere the anchorman role in England’s midfield, starting with the friendly in Denmark on 9 February.
Capello has been criticised for seemingly ignoring Wilshere’s encouraging form for Arsenal this season by restricting his senior international experience to seven minutes in a friendly against Hungary in August. However, the Italian indicated this week that he has finally been convinced of the 19-year-old’s talent and, with Gareth Barry badly off the boil and Owen Hargreaves’s career in doubt because of injury, he plans to make Wilshere the linchpin of England’s midfield, starting in Copenhagen.
Wilshere will be deployed in a deep-lying midfield role, where it is hoped that his technique, vision and dynamism will give England the control and creativity they lacked at the World Cup. Wenger believes that, despite his tender years, Wilshere has the skill set required to fulfil those expectations.
“He can play any position in midfield because he is tactically intelligent,” said the Arsenal manager, who believes Wilshere corresponds to his ideal of the complete midfield player. “For me a midfielder is not exclusively someone who can do one position, it’s a guy who can defend when his team doesn’t have the ball and attack when his team does have it. I never play with a midfielder who does just one thing because that’s what I hate the most.”
One young player who has already supplanted more senior counterparts is Wojciech Szczesny who, Wenger confirmed, will remain first-choice goalkeeper at Arsenal despite the return to fitness of Manuel Almunia. After more than three months out of action, first with an injured elbow and then a damaged ankle, the Spaniard has been included in Arsenal’s squad for Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Huddersfield Town and may even start. However, he has been left in no doubt that the manager now views him as a subordinate to the 20-year-old Pole. “In this position at the moment Wojciech is the No1. He has done nothing for me to take him out, it is down to the others to challenge him.”
Wenger also confirmed that Arsenal are still pursuing the Southampton winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. With several other clubs, including Manchester United and Liverpool, also interested in the 17-year-old, Southampton have indicated that their preferred choice of destination for the player would be Arsenal because of Wenger’s record of developing young players. “We are following his case, he is a player we really like,” he said.
Arsenal have also been seeking a centre-back this month to cover for Thomas Vermaelen, who has been sidelined since September after suffering an achilles injury and is not expected to be fit for at least another six weeks. Wenger reiterated, however, that he is only looking to bring in a defender on loan because making a permanent signing would be economic folly. So far this January he has failed to find a player that meets his criteria.
“We didn’t find any reasonable solutions,” he said. “If we can get a defender on loan until the end of the season, it is an ideal solution for us. It would not get us into a position where we have to pay five defenders for four years and it would cover the season. If we find that opportunity we will do it. We believe in the quality of the defenders we have, but we are a bit short in numbers.”