Arsene Wenger believes Jack Wilshere can get back to his best for Arsenal as he prepares to play his first game for the club in over a year.
The 25-year-old is in line to face Cologne as the Gunners begin their Europa League campaign at home tonight — 383 days since he last wore an Arsenal shirt in the win at Watford last season.
Wilshere has struggled with injuries in recent years and spent most of last season on loan at Bournemouth in an effort to prove his fitness and ability to Wenger.
The Arsenal boss remained unconvinced and admitted during the transfer window that he had not decided whether to seek a similar loan move for Wilshere, whose contract expires next summer.
Wilshere stayed and, having returned to full training following a fractured leg suffered towards the end of his time with Bournemouth, he is expected to come back into the Arsenal side.
Wenger handed Wilshere his debut at the age of 16 and reckons the midfielder can still return to the days when he was regarded as one of the brightest talents in European football.
“His game, you have certainly seen the video of him when we played against Barcelona, his game is about that,” said Wenger, highlighting a particularly impressive display against the Catalan giants in 2011.
“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 and that will come back — it is coming back in training as well.
“He is very hungry and sharp. As well, he is not completely at his best, but he is getting there every week. He enjoys being back and competing for his place and what I see in training is positive.”
Asked if he can get back to his best, Wenger replied: “Yes, if he is injury-free he will come back.”
Despite a history of injury problems, mostly concerning his fragile ankle, Wenger believes there are positives Wilshere can take from so many lay-offs if he has the right mentality to do so.
“The disadvantage is, of course, that he was out of the game for a long time, but there are advantages as well,” he said.
“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.
“Some just come back like nothing happened to them, some are traumatised for their whole life. It is like you have a car accident, some don’t want to drive any more and some take the car and go on again. It is very different and depends on the personality of people.”
Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud insists his “story is not over” at Arsenal but revealed he came close to leaving the club during the summer.
The French international has come off the bench in all the Gunners’ games so far this season having fallen behind club-record signing and compatriot Alexandre Lacazette in the pecking order.
Danny Welbeck also seems to have surpassed Giroud in Wenger’s thinking, but the 30-year-old striker is likely to get a rare chance to impress from the start tonight as Wenger makes a raft of changes.
Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck, Granit Xhaka, and Alexandre Lacazette will all be rested for the visit of the Bundesliga side, with Giroud likely to make his first start of the campaign.
Giroud — who scored a late winner on the opening day Premier League win against Leicester — has struggled to hold down a regular first-team place at the Emirates Stadium and admits he nearly quit over the summer having been linked with the likes of Everton and West Ham.
Asked how close he came to leaving Arsenal, Giroud said: “Actually that’s a very private decision because it’s true that I was close to leaving the club because I said that I wanted to play.
“But after a big reflection with everybody around me, like my family and my close friends, I wanted to stay at Arsenal and I thought the story was not over, (not) finished at Arsenal.
“The club bring me a lot and I think I give it back. I still want to improve again and again and win some more trophies for the club, so as I said to the boss our story is not finished, so everybody was pleased with that.”
Wenger has always maintained his desire to keep Giroud — who has 99 goals for the club — at Arsenal and was full of praise for the striker on the eve of the Cologne clash.
“I have said many times that his contribution has been huge,” he said.
“He has had a great evolution here and overall (his) contribution has been tremendous, and I think he has shown a very loyal spirit and has a high respect from everybody inside the club, as well as (from) our fans.”
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