Jack Wilshere has admitted he hated being in a similar position to some of Arsenal’s current youngsters, but it could be the best thing for them long-term.
Former Gunner Jack Wilshere returned to Arsenal this season to build his fitness and do some work as an academy coach, before joining Danish side Aarhus GF for the second half of the campaign.
Wilshere was back at the Emirates Stadium again last week for a STATSports event, speaking to some young players whose impressive statistical data had earned them an invite to play in front of Arsenal academy performance staff.
Daily Cannon got the chance to chat with Wilshere afterwards, getting his thoughts on the current crop of youngsters.
One of a few youngsters in Mikel Arteta’s recent plans, Zak Swanson is an example of someone who can draw plenty of positives from the fact he was called up to the Premier League squad 15 times in a row this season.
Yet the 21-year-old is still waiting on his senior debut. We asked Jack whether that could lead to some mixed emotions.
“You’re spot on, as a former [youth] player I was in a similar position and I hated it,” Wilshere answered. “I just wanted to get on the pitch. So he’ll have that in him.
“But from a coach’s point of view, for him to be around that and to experience that, because it’s not just what all the fans see – him on the bench – but it’s the work that he does in the week to get to that.
“He’s preparing with the first team, he’s training with them every day, so the manager obviously sees something.
“Obviously, there’s not been the right opportunity to put him on the pitch.
“But I think for his own development, for his career going forward, a lot of clubs might look at that and think ‘right, we’ll take him on loan, if he’s good enough to be in the Arsenal squad then why shouldn’t we take a chance on him?’
“I remember when I was a player in that situation, and I think it was only like five games I was on the bench, I was just desperate to get on the pitch.
“But it will come for him.”
Wilshere wouldn’t be drawn on naming individuals who could be set for first-team futures at Arsenal, but he believes the current crop of youngsters certainly have the right attitudes.
“I’d hate to name one, and then everyone puts pressure on them, because I don’t think that’s fair,” Wilshere said. “But there’s a few, honestly, I’m not just saying it.
“They obviously need a lot of work still, and they’re really young. But I think the one thing that stood out for me when I was there was their willingness to learn and listen. I think that stands them in good stead, because they want to learn.
“I think back to when I was coming through the academy and then I got into the first team, I was trying to listen to as many people as I can, to learn.
“I was lucky I had people like Liam Brady, Steve Bould, and Neil Bamford around me who were with me every step of the way even when I progressed into the first team.
“They were still on me, they were watching my games still, telling me ‘what are you doing here?’, ‘you should do this’. I’ve seen a lot of players as well, at that stage, sort of forget about all that.
“They think ‘we’ve got to the first team’ or ‘we’ve gone full time in the academy at Arsenal, we don’t need to learn anymore’. So I think the biggest thing is attitude.”
As mentioned, Wilshere was attending a STATSports event to speak to some young players from outside the Arsenal academy, whose GPS data stood out enough for the club to invite them in for a practice match.
Data is becoming a much larger part of coaching and player development now, but Wilshere thinks the competitive element within the squad is still mostly driven by the players themselves.
“You’ve got the iPad on the side of the pitch, and if we’re doing sprints they can see their top speed, or they can see how far they sprinted,” Wilshere recalled from his spell with the academy.
“I think that helps the players as well, because it drives them on a little bit more.
“If you go over to the iPad halfway through a session and you’re bottom of the list in everything then you want to push yourself for the next bit of the session. So that’s more player-driven.”
As for how he’s adapted to coaching with data, Wilshere points out he’s never known anything else.
“I’ve never coached without it, so I think it’s a [bigger] change for the older coaches who were around when there wasn’t any GPS or anything like that,” Wilshere added.
“Now a lot of the training preparation, I wouldn’t say everything is about the GPS, but it’s a big part of it. ‘We’re doing this part of the session…we’re going to need to get this amount of high-speed running’.
“I actually quite like it, I think it works nicely and when you go into the session you know exactly what you’re going to get out of it.”
Wilshere went on to highlight how the new developments in technology help even the naturally gifted players to take their fitness seriously.
“I think this is where the players benefit, because there is no hiding place. It’s not ‘I’m going to work on my technique and I’m going to be a good enough footballer’.
“Yeah, that’s okay, but actually, your numbers are there. There’s no hiding place.
“I was quite lucky that I was blessed with a lot of talent, obviously I worked hard at it. But on the other side of things, I played with players who were unbelievably fit and could run all game, but I wasn’t naturally one of them. So I had to work at that.
“When I was really young the numbers weren’t there for me to see, now they are. So these young players have got even more of a chance to get there, because the numbers and the facts are there.”
The developments in the couple of decades since Wilshere started his footballing journey as a child have certainly been significant, and he believes it’s all for the better.
“When I first broke in, there wasn’t any of this technology. There were heart rate monitors, we used them, and then slowly STATSports came in and it changed everything, to be honest.
“I could’ve probably done with it (early on), I was a player who would’ve benefitted from it when I was younger, in terms of managing and seeing where I was at and where I needed to get to.
“So these young players have a great opportunity now as well, because the numbers are there, there’s no hiding place.
“This is what the Premier League players do in training and matchdays. If you want to have a chance this is what you have to do.”
As for whether he believes he would’ve benefitted from GPS data when he was a younger player, Wilshere simply answered “100%”.
To find out more about the STATSports Arsenal FC Edition, visit www.statsports.com/arsenal