Arsène Wenger has placed himself on a collision course with the Football Association by warning England against calling up Jack Wilshere for next summer’s Under-21 European Championship in Denmark.
Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of football development, spoke this week of England’s determination to send the strongest possible squad to the tournament and specifically mentioned the 18-year-old Wilshere.
Arsenal have clashed with the FA before about the perceived over-use of their young players, notably last year when Theo Walcott was summoned for duty for the Under-21s and the England senior team within one month. Wenger is adamant similar demands should not be made of Wilshere, who was given his senior international debut as a substitute in August’s friendly against Hungary, especially as the midfielder is expected to continue to feature prominently in Arsenal’s first team for the rest of the season.
The teenager has appeared 21 times for his club in this campaign and Wenger envisages him playing at least double that amount by the end of the season, which he believes should preclude Wilshere from being selected for the Under-21s’ tournament, which runs from 11 to 25 June.
“First of all, what the English FA has to decide is: Is the player in the first team or in the Under-21s?” Arsenal’s manager said. “Personally I don’t believe a player ever performs when he has been in the top team and then comes back down to the Under-21s. I have never seen it so it is always a bad decision.
“The second thing is to sit down at the end of the season and see how many games Wilshere has played before considering that he plays in the Under-21s. The boy wants to play and I find that positive but playing now with the first team until June and then playing in the Under-21s, that will not work. If he has played over 40 games at 18 years of age – and he will – then he needs a rest.”
Wenger welcomed back the central defender Thomas Vermaelen to full training this week and said the Belgian should be fit to resume playing at the end of next month if he does not suffer another setback in his recovery from an ankle injury sustained on international duty in September.
Wenger said that even if Vermaelen did relapse, said it is unlikely that Arsenal would make any purchases during next month’s transfer window. “We can deal with that,” he said. “Anyway, we already have 25 players so we cannot bring anyone in unless someone leaves.” Denílson and Nicklas Bendtner have been linked with transfers away but Wenger said both would be staying, which suggests that an opening would arise only if the demoted goalkeeper Manuel Almunia were sold.
The Arsenal manager made it clear that, contrary to rumours, any vacancy will not be filled by David Beckham even though the former Manchester United player impressed Wenger while training with Arsenal during a break from Los Angeles Galaxy this year and is keen to join a European club on loan until the new American season begins in March.
“I love David Beckham but we cannot sign anyone in the department he plays,” said Wenger. “When he was here he was a fantastic example on the professional side. He was the first in and the last out. Of course I would consider signing Beckham but it’s in an area where we do not need players. We have Walcott, [Samir] Nasri, [Tomas] Rosicky, [Andrey] Arshavin, [Carlos] Vela, Emmanuel Eboué who can play on the flanks.”
Wenger is preparing for Monday’s showdown at the Emirates with Chelsea, which he described as a “must-win” even though he maintains that the fixtures over the festive period will not be decisive for the outcome of the title race. “It’s too tight,” he said. “I’d say for us January is a vital month because we play many games, because we are involved in the FA Cup, Carling Cup and the championship. The way in which we can focus in every game will certainly decide our season.”
Wenger offered a mocking response to claims from the Manchester United winger Nani that Arsenal are not contenders for the title and that United or Chelsea will finish top. “I don’t know who will win the league and I have managed 1,600 games. If Nani knows he must be 1,600 times more intelligent than I am.”