Wenger stresses the pos­i­tives for Wilshere and Europa League

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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

Penal­ties awarded

Stu­art Mac­Far­lane/ Arse­nal via Getty Images

In the run­ning

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