Arsenal star Jack Wilshere reveals he is close to signing a new contract, thinks winning this season's Champions League is not out of the question and gives support to Arsene Wenger
Last Updated: 16/12/12 12:03am
Arsenal's troubled season has lurched into new crisis. Tuesday's Capital One Cup penalty shoot-out defeat by Bradford City has left manager Arsene Wenger under intense pressure and questions are being asked about his future.
An exodus of big-name players - such as former captains Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie - over recent seasons, reports of coaching staff bust-ups and the infamous failure to win a trophy in seven years has only added to a feeling of negativity around Emirates Stadium.
But ahead of Monday night's Premier League match at Reading, Jack Wilshere, arguably Arsenal's brightest prospect following his return from last season's injury nightmare, is not panicking. The 20-year-old knows improvements are needed but he is also excited by the potential.
Here, talking at a FIFA 13 Ultimate Team appearance, Wilshere reveals he is close to signing a new contract, discusses Arsenal's Champions League-winning credentials and explains why Wenger is still the right man to manage the club.
It was seen as important for Arsenal to win a cup. Where does the Capital One Cup quarter-final defeat by Bradford leave Arsenal's season?
First and foremost, we have to know our season is not over. It was the Capital One Cup. It was not one of our main targets. Obviously it is nice to get a trophy and we were all up for it and wanting to get a trophy. But we had a shock exit and it hurts a lot. But it is only December and we are still in every other competition.
What was it like in the dressing room afterwards? Was there a sense of disbelief?
We were all disappointed. It is horrible to lose on penalties. It is not a nice way to go out. But we know we should have won it. Maybe not in normal time but in extra time we had so many chances. We just had to put the ball in the back of the net but it did not happen.
How much does Arsenal's seven-year trophy drought play on the mind of players?
It is something we have to change. It is there and it adds to the pressure. It has been too long for a club like Arsenal. We used to win trophies in the past so there is no reason why we cannot. We have got good players. Maybe there is just a mental block we need to get over. When we get our first one, it can all start to happen.
You played in the 2011 League Cup final defeat by Birmingham City. That was a great Arsenal team who maybe had a chance of winning the league. Is there a sense that if you had won that League Cup final, you might have gone on and won more trophies?
In that particular season, that changed our season. We were still in the title race but went downhill. That did not help. But now we are in a totally different season. We have to show character. It is December. We are not half way through the season yet so we have still got a long way to go. We have still got a lot of trophies to go for.
What can Arsenal realistically win this year?
We can still realistically win everything we are in. I know we are a long way behind in the Premier League but football changes quickly. If we win three games and another team loses a couple and draws one, we are back in it. It is not in our hands so we need a bit of luck. We are in the last 16 of the Champions League, that is going to be difficult. But we know in the Champions League anything can happen. It is two games and we can beat anybody. We showed that at home before when we beat Barcelona. There is no reason why we cannot do it again. We have got a hard game against Swansea City in the FA Cup. But if we win that and a couple of big teams go out, anything can happen in cup football.
So you think this Arsenal team can win the Champions League with a bit of luck?
You saw with Chelsea last year, no-one would have said in December they were going to win the Champions League. But they got a bit of luck. There are top-quality teams and the best players in Europe so you are going to need a bit of luck. You never know what can happen.
There are questions beginning to be asked about Arsene Wenger, which has not happened in the past. He has put a lot of faith in you. Why is he still the man who should be manager of Arsenal?
For one, every year he has been in the Champions League and there is no other manager who has done that. He has built a legacy at this club. He changed everything from when he came in 15-16 years ago. He brought the Total Football, if you like, to Arsenal - the passing game. He has also been great for me. He has shown great faith in me from when I was young. He stuck with me when I was injured and has still stuck by me. For me, there is no question he is the right man. You cannot start questioning him because we have had a few bad results. The players have to look at themselves.
Have there been enough leaders on the pitch for Arsenal? Do some of the men need to step forward?
There are definitely some leaders in the team. It has been a hard season so I think the leaders really need to step up and be counted. We have got Thomas Vermaelen, who is our captain, Per Mertesacker has a lot of caps for Germany and Lukas Podolski. Even Santi Cazorla is a leader, because of the way he plays.
What is Arsene Wenger like immediately after a game? Do his feelings come out?
If we do not perform, he is entitled to get angry. He is entitled to dig players out, if they are not pulling their weight. I think the way we played against Bradford, he deserved to be angry. It is only normal to be angry and upset.
Were the players surprised at the strength of the team Arsene Wenger picked to face Bradford? It was one of the best teams he has selected in the League Cup.
It is a competition at the end of the day and we were in a good position. We knew it was going to be a tough game. It is difficult for the foreign players to come here in their first season and know what playing Bradford away is like. A lot of people would think Bradford away is easy but, trust me, it is not. It is maybe even quicker and more intense than the Premier League. They get up to you and close you down.
When you hear boos going around the stadium after a defeat, what do you say to each other as players?
We understand the fans' frustration. They pay their money. If we are not performing, they can boo. We should not be losing games at home with the team we have. We were disappointed we lost the Swansea game and the fans deserved to boo us.
You grew up as an Arsenal fan in the era when Arsene Wenger was changing the club for a trophy-laden period with Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira. The club is now in another transition. In your career, do you believe the club can return to being a force?I think we can. We are in a transition. We lost a lot of big players over the last few years. We have brought in some big players but they need time to adapt. If we can stick together as a team and be united, over the next few years, we can really develop.
You have an affinity with Arsenal which goes back many years. But if Arsenal cannot win trophies and get back to that level, is it understandable the top players will want to leave?
I think so. You have seen that over the past few years the top players have maybe thought they do not see a bright future at Arsenal. But I think it is different for me. They were a bit older. I am 20 so have a long way to go, touch wood, in my career. Players like Robin maybe thought, 'I have not got time anymore'. Cesc wanted to go home (to Barcelona). I am young. There are older players around me and younger players around me like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs. In the next three or four years, they can become top players and we can challenge.
Is it your dream to be captain of the Arsenal team one day and be the man who leads the club to a trophy?
I would like to be captain one day. I have been here since I was nine years old and I know the club's traditions. I have been in the first team since I was young. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying I am ready now.
There have been reports Arsenal want you to sign a new contract. From what you have said publically, that does not sound like it would be a problem for you despite the club currently being in a time of transition?
I am talking to the club and I probably will be committing my future to the club in the next couple of weeks. I know the team are going through a bad stage at the moment but that is like any team. Look at West Bromwich Albion. Okay, they are not as big a club as Arsenal. But they were flying and now they have hit a sticky patch. The fans booing is not a problem for me. We have to change that ourselves.
How disappointing was it when you were out injured to see the big-name players, such as Robin van Persie, leaving Arsenal?
It was hard to take. But then you see the players they have brought in. Mikel Arteta is an experienced player and Cazorla and Podolski. That makes it a lot easier to know the club still want to challenge for everything by buying the best players.
How do you feel when you watch games like last weekend's Manchester derby between City and United? They are two teams who are slugging it out for the title and Robin van Persie, your former team-mate, is scoring the winning free-kick. Is there any jealously?
I do not think there is any jealousy. Maybe there is jealousy that those two clubs are at the top. But I do not think they are that far ahead of us. We have had a few disappointing results and are far behind them in the table. But, quality-wise, I heard (Manchester City captain) Vincent Kompany say the best team they had played this year was Arsenal. So I am not jealous of them. I know we have got the quality to get up there. We just have to be more professional, see games out and take our chances.
There is a possibility Thierry Henry could go back to Arsenal on loan in January. You did not get the chance to play with him last time he returned due to your injury. What would it mean to you to play with him?
That would be great. He is a legend. When I was growing up, I was watching him. He is the best striker I have ever seen. Maybe he is not the best striker around anymore but to play with him and have him around club would be great. He used to speak to me when he was here last time but to have him in the dressing room would be great.
Some people are surprised at how you have hit the ground running after such a long time out with your injury. Have you surprised yourself at the level you have come back to so quickly?
I do not think I am surprised. I have never had an injury before. I know from my first game I have just got better and better. I am now probably 30 per cent better than when I played my first game for Arsenal's Under 21s (when back from injury). I am not where I want to be yet but I can feel myself getting better.
It is your 21st birthday on 1st January. What do you hope for from 2013?
I would like to stay fit, obviously, after the year I had last year. But then I would like to win something with Arsenal, push on, get into the top four and play Champions League football next year. We can then build and have a good pre-season and then have a good start to next season and make sure this time next year we are still in the title race.
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