Jack Wilshere

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Wilshere could have left Arsenal last August

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It’s hard to imagine an Arsenal team without Jack Wilshere on the books, but it nearly came to be during last summer’s transfer window.

Speaking openly in England’s training camp this week, Wilshere detailed how Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger approached him one day in August and told him the England international wasn’t in Wenger’s plans.

“It was an honest conversation,” Wilshere told The Guardian. “It had been boiling up for a while. Everybody knew I had a year left on my deal and had been out on loan, got injured and wasn’t really in his plans. He just said: ‘At the moment we are not going to be offering you a contract so, if you can get one somewhere else, you can go.’”

Wilshere said that he looked around but ultimately wanted to win his place back in the Arsenal first team, and he did so by November, after mainly playing in the Carabao Cup and UEFA Europa League through the first three months of the season.

This week, Wilshere earned a recall to the England National Team for the first time since the Three Lions’ disastrous defeat in Euro 2016 to Iceland and he’s played 31 appearances this season in all competitions, the most since the 2013-2014 season, showcasing a new-found fitness level.

That being said, Wilshere hasn’t found the form for Arsenal that earned him plaudits in the past from Xavi Hernandez. Wilshere looked off the pace in Arsenal defeats to Tottenham, Ostersunds and Manchester City in February, failing to make an impact in his central midfield role.

Wilshere has three months left on his contract, and while he said it wouldn’t be a distraction, the longer his future is unresolved, surely it will be in the back of his mind.

We had a sneak-peak in 2016-2017 with Wilshere playing on-loan at Bournemouth. Perhaps next season we’ll see Wilshere playing away from the Arsenal colors again. This time, on a permanent basis, unless Wenger changes his mind.

Wenger lauds Arsenal, wants to “avoid Atletico Madrid” in quarters

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Lots of managers and players like to act as if tournament draws shouldn’t matter, or that there shouldn’t be teams to avoid.

And we all know that’s garbage.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 3-1 (5-1 agg.) AC Milan ]

Arsene Wenger‘s not going to bother trying to fool you as Arsenal earned a spot in the UEFA Europa League quarterfinals with a decisive win over AC Milan on Thursday.

Anybody but Atleti.

“We would certainly want to avoid Atletico Madrid, but we will see, we have no influence over that,” Wenger said.

The Gunners were very good aside from a world-class goal from Hakan Calhanoglu, winning the tie 5-1 and the leg 3-1 thanks to a pair from Danny Welbeck and a Granit Xhaka goal. From the BBC:

“We have to improve defensively, but overall we are team with technical quality which is more offense-minded.

“We struggle a bit more when we have to defend. We finished the game more compact and more solid.”

Welbeck won a penalty for the first goal with a fairly blatant embellishment — he was even looking to the fourth official before he hit the deck — but the Gunners definitely deserved to be on the winning end of the Round of 16 tie.

Jack Wilshere was celebrating the win as well as an England call-up, and said the result was an impressive one.

“We needed it,” Wilshere said. “We set the level last week in Milan. It was about getting the job done tonight and being professional. We didn’t start well but it woke us up. They got a good goal early on and made us work for it. We are happy to be through to the next round and we will see who we get.”

The quarterfinal draw is set for 8 a.m. ET Friday. You can find the full field here.

Wilshere shines again, happy to be back starring for Arsenal

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There’s something kinda special about Jack Wilshere‘s return to form coming as Alexis Sanchez sails off to Manchester United.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-1 (2-1 agg.) Chelsea ]

The Arsenal-grown Englishman has been so good for the Gunners over the past month, and looks more and more like a man with a long future with the club (He’s still just 26).

With respect to match-winner Granit Xhaka, Wilshere was probably the Man of the Match as Arsenal clinched another trip to Wembley Stadium with a 2-1 win over Chelsea on Wednesday in the second leg of their League Cup semifinal.

The midfielder was everywhere, and now can help Arsenal win its fourth cup in five years when it matches up with favorites Manchester City at Wembley Stadium for the League Cup Final on Feb. 25. From the BBC:

“The team effort in the second half was key when we knew he had to dig deep. We might have got a formation wrong in the first 25 minutes and they have good players in the middle who could take advantage.

At this level, we are creating a few more chances and it takes a bit of luck some time. We have to be up for it and ready to go. I wouldn’t see it as surreal being back here and in the first team. I went away on loan last season, but wanted to come back and fight for my place in the team.”

Wilshere has strong for the Gunners, and the club can shine when both Aaron Ramsey are healthy. If Granit Xhaka builds on his Wednesday goal and Henrikh Mkhitaryan hits the ground running, look out.

Arsenal joins Man City in League Cup Final

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  • Hazard scores early
  • Freak own goal makes it 1-1
  • Xhaka puts Arsenal ahead

Granit Xhaka‘s second half goals snapped a 1-1 tie and sent Arsenal into the League Cup Final, as Arsene Wenger‘s Gunners topped Chelsea on Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium.

A goofy double-deflection which will go down as an Antonio Rudiger own goal was Arsenal’s other goal, and Eden Hazard opened the scoring for Chelsea. The clubs played a scoreless first leg at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago.

Arsenal has won three FA Cups in four seasons, but has not won the League Cup since 1993.

Man City will be the opponent in League Cup Final on Feb. 25 at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Pedro had the ball in the goal five minutes into the match, but was offside when he darted onto Cesar Azpilicueta’s perfectly-weighted ball.

Hazard was within the rules when he cut between Shkrodan Mustafi and Laurent Koscileny to meet Pedro’s pass and it was 1-0 in the seventh.

Wily Caballero was injured two minutes later when he stopped Jack Wilshere‘s in-tight bid to equalize for Arsenal.

The Gunners did make it 1-1 in the 12th off the ensuing corner kick, as Monreal’s header turned off the heads of Marcos Alonso and Antonio Rudiger en route to goal. A freak play, but 1-1 nonetheless.

Willian was injured and Ross Barkley hit the pitch in his new blue No. 8. The ex-Everton star was then chopped down by a yellow-card earning Wilshere.

Mesut Ozil’s deflected effort in stoppage time, set up by Wilshere, just missed the far post.

Arsenal went ahead before the game was an hour old, as Xhaka got his boot between Caballero and the ball to prod home the Gunners’ second after Alexandre Lacazette‘s pass bounded into his path.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

It’s time for Arsenal to hit the reset button

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John Cross of the Mirror wrote yesterday that this is the worst Arsenal team in 20 years. He’s right, and that means it’s time to blow the squad up.

Sitting in 6th and coming off an embarrassing 2-1 loss at 13th placed Bourneouth, there is no quick fix to return this club to Champions League caliber, having slowly emaciated through years of poor transfer policy and miserable contract management.

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and even Jack Wilshere could all potentially leave this summer for zero return, the loss of prime talent at the height of its monetary value. Even if Sanchez does leave this January, which looks likely, he’ll leave for a cut-rate price.

In recent years, Arsenal has failed to prepare for the stark decline of defensive stalwarts Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, left with Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, and occasionally an out of position Nacho Monreal at the back. In Holding’s five Premier League starts this season, Arsenal has conceded 11 goals; Chambers has started the last four games, with just one win and seven goals conceded.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

It doesn’t end there. With Francis Coquelin failing to live up to his sky-high potential shown early in his career, the Gunners brought in Granit Xhaka, who has been utterly useless, succeeding more at reducing his side to 10 men than he has in providing defensive cover or possessional strength. The 25-year-old Swiss is rated the 21st-best midfielder in the Premier League this season according to Squawka’s player ratings, behind guys like West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucore.

Hector Bellerin has declined for two seasons straight. Petr Cech looks all of his 35 years old, leaving fans longing for Wojciech Szczesny, who has performed his backup duties to Gianluigi Buffon to perfection (six goals conceded in 10 Serie A appearances). Lucas Perez lasted one season before being shipped out on loan. Mohamed Elneny can’t even beat out Xhaka for a starting spot. Gabriel Paulista was a flop; Mathieu Debuchy too.

The miserable squad makeup has forced youth products Alex Iwobi, Chuba Akpom, Yaya Sanogo, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles into spot starts over the last few years, with none of the above able to grab a foothold among Premier League competition.

Meanwhile, on the outgoing side, the club has sold players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has been revived under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. They let Szczesny leave for Italy. Even back to the Robin Van Persie sale in the summer of 2012, they handed a top talent to a Premier League rival where he won a title. Arsenal hasn’t broken its record sale since shipping Marc Overmars to Barcelona in 2000 for $49 million, proving they can’t cash in on top talent when necessary. Allowing Alexis Sanchez to leave for pennies on the dollar (if anything) is a disaster of epic proportions, but not the first – they held onto players like Lukas Podolski too long, eventually saying goodbye far past peak value for little return.

And so, the Gunners have no other option. They must completely blow up the squad and start over. It will take some time, it will take heavy investment given the lack of assets at the club, and it might take a painful season or two. But it is what must be done. They only need to look north to Anfield to get a solid blueprint of what a top club grinding out a successful rebuild looks like.

Liverpool was in the same situation in 2015. The squad was aging, the transfer policy was poor, and aside from a 2nd place finish the year before which masked some of the problems plaguing the club, they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League since 2010. So, Fenway Sports Group blew the whole thing up. They sold Raheem Sterling, who would take years to finally blossom under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, for top dollar. They saw Steven Gerrard, Luis Enrique, and Pepe Reina out. They got rid of failures like Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic. They used money from the painful but necessary sale of Luis Suarez to bring in Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. They swung and missed on Christian Benteke, but righted that wrong quickly and got most of their money back. They brought in a veteran grinder in James Milner on a free. Eventually, smart money was spent on Emre Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah, and they found a gem in Philippe Coutinho for just $16 million.

The key however, through all that, was the home run hire of Jurgen Klopp, who has had plenty of growing pains in the Premier League, but is the perfect manager for a rebuild. A loyal and enigmatic character who grooms young players brilliantly, Klopp has mixed cheap veterans with promising youngsters with amazing touch, and can tactically mask squad weaknesses with the best of them. The Reds still have a ways to go as they slowly climb the ladder to perennial Champions League contender, still sporting massive holes at defense and goalkeeper, but shrewd decision-making at the top now has Liverpool with the resources to patch holes while still allowing the stars of the squad to shine.

No rebuild is perfect, and no rebuild is without pain and mistakes, but it is preferable to the alternative in the long-run. Manchester United has been able to avoid a full-on squad nuke when left in a similar position after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, but only because of near-unlimited resources and the hiring of managers who mask deficiencies with short-term band-aids such as negative tactics which infuriate supporters and yet fail to achieve the heights the club once reached on a regular basis.

It’s clear that Arsenal must follow Liverpool’s example and sacrifice a few battles to win the war. The first step is letting go of Arsene Wenger and finding someone to lead them through the muck and still be there on the other side. While Carlo Ancelotti would be a big-name get, he wouldn’t fit a long-term plan as snug as someone like Diego Simeone.

The next step – which is no cake walk – would be to retool the squad without many assets of value on hand. Players like Jack Wilshere must be retained, while recent transfers Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac have shown enough promise and work rate to build around. The rest are expendable, and departures are required to both raise funds and provide turnover. Aaron Ramsey would be a rare example of someone who could net a solid return while also proving replaceable, as would Hector Bellerin at just 22 years old. Expired has-beens over 30 in Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Debuchy are all immediately out the door despite minimal return, while keeping Olivier Giroud and Nacho Monreal would provide valuable veteran leaders who can still produce on the field.

These aren’t all the answers, and it can’t all be done at once, but it’s a starting point. As is, the Gunners are slowly bleeding out, and instead of layers and layers of gauze, upper management should invest in wide-scale surgery for the long-term health of the club.