Wenger stresses the positives for Wilshere and Europa League
nished by one stellar performance in the Champions League six years ago, a reputation he has struggled to live up to since.
“Jack is very hungry and very determined‚” Wenger said of his charge, with whom he has now worked for a decade. “He is also not completely at his best but he is getting there every week. I think he enjoys being back and enjoys competing for his place. What I see in training is positive.
“When he began his rehab [from a hairline fracture of his left fibula sustained while on loan at Bournemouth] I was on tour with the club but since I came back I have observed him more. I know Jack well enough; he analyses every training session to see how he has done. He has a football brain, you don’t need to tell him much on that front, but I speak to him of course about how I see his evolution.”
Wilshere’s future is one of those matters on which Wenger vacillates, with rumours even this week linking the England midfielder with a January move to the Turkish Super Lig. However, while the manager may no longer see Wilshere as someone he could build a side around, the affection he has for the player is real.
Asked if Wilshere will ever be able to fully realise his potential after such a succession of injuries, Wenger went straight to that Champions League encounter. “If you have seen the video of when he played against Barcelona, you know what his game is about. He needs this little burst to get away from people because he can turn the game forward. If you can turn the game forward you need your legs to get you out of the pressure. That will come back for him, I believe. It’s coming back in training.”
On the surface, Cologne do not look like particularly threatening opposition – they are bottom of the Bundesliga with no points after three matches. They have scored only once during that time. The striker whose goals set up their fifth-place finish last term, Anthony Modeste, left for the Chinese Super League on loan this summer. His replacement, Jhon Córdoba, does not have a prolific history.
A victory will be seen as par and a defeat, of course, will occasion talk of crisis. In this early stage of the season, though, Wenger is staying positive and even the absence from Europe’s elite is addressed with a thin smile.
“Of course the disappointment from not finishing top four was there but we were one point short‚” Wenger said, not for the first time. “We won 75 points last year. Now we are humble enough to be happy enough to win every single competition we are in.”
Arsenal v Cologne, 8.05pm BT Sport 2
to find out what exactly they do and how they do it, were almost certainly responsible for the increase in 2010-11. The former Premier League and Fifalisted referee Dermot Gallagher says: “I go back home [to Ireland] a lot and I speak to the referees there and they’ve told me how it works and how they’re designated certain areas of the penalty area at corners and free-kicks and such like. It’s a lot more scrutinised these days.”
Although the presence of additional officials may account for the increase in the number of penalties awarded then, there is no obvious explanation for the subsequent increase from 29 to 46 penalties awarded in the 2013-14 Champions League. A Uefa diktat on manhandling in the box, perhaps? “None of the referees I’ve talked to have ever mentioned that,” says Gallagher.
One possible explanation is the increasing gulf in class between those sides who tend to advance from the group stages and the comparative church mice who do not, but does it stand up to scrutiny? On the first night of action in this season’s competition, five of the eight matches ended in
Jack Wilshere, left, trains with Rob Holding hoping to earn a start in Arsenal’s Europa League tie against Cologne tonight
shellackings of 3-0 or worse, although it should be noted that the Italian champions and last year’s finalists Juventus were on the wrong end of one of those hidings and can hardly be considered cannon fodder.
While the concession of penalties by Celtic against Paris Saint-Germain and Anderlecht against Bayern Munich suggests there may be an understandable propensity for weaker teams to buckle under extreme pressure
and foul inside their own penalty areas, it’s worth noting that of the 25 scored in last year’s group stages, 12 were conceded by sides who made the knockout stages.
One statistic that appears to render the recent surge even more quirky and anomalous is that the number awarded in the Premier League over the same period has remained more or less the same. Since 2010-11 the amount in Europe’s blue riband competition has
In the running