When Arsene Wenger discussed Jack Wilshere’s fitness at his press conference last Friday morning, he almost sounded excessively optimistic. “It is very important for his confidence that he can go to the Euros and he can play,” said Wenger, giving his surprise backing to Roy Hodgson’s hopeful plan to take Wilshere to France in June. “You can certainly take a chance on just one player.”
Wilshere had been pencilled in to play for Arsenal Under-21s at the end of this week, and Wenger was mapping out an end to the season with enough first-team performances to justify Wilshere’s inclusion at Euro 2016. Given how protective Wenger has been of Wilshere in the past, it was striking how much faith he was putting in the 24-year-old.
And then less than 48 hours later that trust had been undermined. Wilshere was questioned by the police in the early hours of Sunday morning after an altercation outside a nightclub in central London.
Wilshere, of course, denies any allegation of assault. And as Arsenal played on Saturday, Sunday was a day off for the squad. He was in breach of no club rule by going out that evening, and Arsenal last night described it as a “private matter”.
And yet the incident, not the first of its type, betrays a remarkable lack of judgement from the midfielder. This ought to be one of the most important periods in Wilshere’s career, as he tries to salvage something from this lost season and reward the faith placed in him by Wenger and Hodgson. He has not played since last June, but only needs to a few games for his club to justify to place in the England squad. Not many players are afforded that much trust.
Arsenal have had their reservations about Wilshere’s behaviour in the past, not least for his unfortunate habit of being caught photographed smoking. He has been repeatedly reminded of his responsibilities, as he surely will be in this instance too, once Arsenal are in possession of the full facts. This story is not an unfamiliar one.
Of course Wilshere is entitled to have a private life, entitled to enjoy himself and even entitled to make mistakes. He is a 24-year-old man living under intense scrutiny and very public pressure.
Wenger spoke with real sympathy and feeling about Wilshere’s situation on Friday morning. “When you wake up in the morning, you get out of bed and have pain in your ankles or knees it is a disaster,” he said. “He is long-suffering because he is a natural football player and wants to get up and play football. It is hugely frustrating. When you have an inflammation, you never know how long that lasts, it kills you.”
And yet the following night, at the crossroads of his career, days before his planned return, with everyone desperate for him to succeed, Wilshere was out in the West End hiding behind bins, hoping not to get spotted. How much does he want to make the most of his talent?