Jack Wilshere has not played a minute of competitive football since breaking a leg in April and more than a year has passed since he last appeared for Arsenal but he is back in the squad for the Europa League.
Don’t try telling Wilshere the competition is a waste of time as he prepares for Cologne and Arsene Wenger compares the psychological impact of injuries on footballers to motorists in a car crash.
‘Some just come back like nothing happened to them, some are traumatised for their whole life,’ said Wenger, when asked about the lingering effects of serious injuries.
Jack Wilshere in line for a start when Arsenal open their Europa League campaign on Thursday
‘It is like you have a car accident, some don’t want to drive anymore and some take the car and go on again. It is depends on the personality of people.’
Wilshere has courage and strength of personality on his side and, although his career has been ravaged, his manager refuses to give up on the 25-year-old midfielder.
‘The disadvantage is that he was out of the game for a long time but there are advantages as well,’ said Wenger.
Wilshere hasn’t played for Arsenal in 13 months, spending last season on loan at Bournemouth
WILSHERE’S LAST ARSENAL GAME
Jack Wilshere made his last first-team appearance for Arsenal over a year ago, in their 3-1 Premier League win at Watford on August 27 last year.
He replaced Mesut Ozil with 20 minutes left, with the Gunners already 3-1 ahead thanks to goals from Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Ozil.
Wilshere was loaned out to Bournemouth a few days later.
‘Because he knows his body well, he has become very professional and learnt how much time it takes to get back to his best so he is more patient.’
Wenger is convinced Wilshere can recapture performances such as the one against Barcelona in February 2011 when, at the age of 19, he carried Arsenal’s fight with a display to fire the imagination.
‘You have certainly seen the video of him when we played Barcelona,’ said the Arsenal boss.
‘His game is about that. He needs a little burst to get away from people because he can turn the game forward and if you can turn the game forward you need your legs to get you out of pressure.
Wilshere last played for Arsenal in 3-1 Premier League win at Watford on August 27 last year
‘If he is injury-free he will come back. It is coming back in training. He is hungry and sharp. Not completely at his best but getting there. He enjoys being back, competing for his place and what I see in training is positive.
‘There was always a huge pressure on him to come back as quickly as possible and to expect a lot. At the moment, one of the positive things is that he is not under that kind of pressure.’
Wilshere’s contract expires next year and he was not inundated with offers during the summer when available for transfer.
Also, the prospect of making the World Cup squad next year seems remote.
Wilshere talks to Arsene Wenger during training as he prepares to return to the first team
He has not played for his country since the defeat against Iceland at Euro 2016 although the chance to impress Gareth Southgate will provide extra motivation if opportunities arise in the Europa League.
Like Wilshere’s, Arsenal’s stock has slumped since the days when they sparred with Barcelona.
Wenger monitored Tuesday’s Champions League ties on TV, with one eye on Chelsea, his opponents on Sunday, as they thrashed Qarabag and another on Barcelona-Juventus.
Wenger is expected to make wholesale changes for the match at the Emirates Stadium
Arsenal are on Europe’s undercard for the first time since 2000 when beaten on penalties by Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup final.
Seven first-team regulars – Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Alex Lacazette, Danny Welbeck, Granit Xhaka, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey – will not be involved against Cologne.
But it will be a strong and recognisable side with Olivier Giroud up front, searching for the goal he needs to reach 100 for Arsenal, and Alexis Sanchez set to start for the first time since his summer of unrest.
Wenger speaks to Shkodran Mustafi (right) ahead of Wednesday morning’s training session
‘He is still a bit short of total fitness,’ said Wenger, on Sanchez. ‘He has had a long holiday and then an injury, so he is like everybody else he needs to practice and he needs competition.
‘The modern game does not tolerate, no matter how good you are, to be off your best fitness game. He is conscious of that and is working very hard. He is in the squad.’
Wenger and Sanchez have spoken since the Chilean striker returned to Arsenal from international duty after the transfer deadline having failed to secure the move he wanted to Manchester City.
‘It is not easy,’ said Wenger. ‘You can be destabilised when you don’t know where you belong. But it helps me that he is focused 100 per cent on his game.
‘I had a conversation but I did not have to raise his spirits at all. Before we even spoke he told me he was 100 per cent focused.’
Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac train ahead of Arsenal’s first game in the Europa League in 17 years
Jeff Reine-Adelaide (left), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (centre) and Alex Iwobi (front right)
Theo Walcott is also in contention to start on Thursday as Wenger rotates his squad