By Nik Brumsack
For Jack WIlshere, a frustrating 14-month spell without a competitive appearance is nearing its end.
The 20-year-old was named on the bench as Arsène Wenger’s side were beaten 1-0 by Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday but the Arsenal boss decided against introducing the combative midfielder to what was a frantic finish to the game.
Wilshere has seen his game time steadily increase since returning to action for the Under-21s three weeks ago. He played 63 minutes against West Bromwich Albion in his comeback game, before adding 74 against Reading. Then, last Wednesday, he took another huge step towards recovery by completing 90 minutes of action in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Chelsea at London Colney.
With Saturday’s Premier League match the first in a spell of six games in 17 days, Wenger will no doubt be keen to have Wilshere's class and tenacity at his disposal. However, the manager is mindful that the England midfielder needs more game time at under-21 level before he can come back to the first-team fold.
“We have to be conscious he has not played for 14 months. I would have brought him on if the game had allowed it on Saturday but it was too intense,” Wenger said.
“There are two aspects [to the recovery]. One is the apprehension to go into challenges when you have too many injuries. On that front he is at 100 per cent. We even have to calm him down. He goes for every challenge and has no apprehension.
“Then you have the physical front - he is OK there. Then you have the match fitness - that is 80 per cent. He needs one more game.”
Sagna earned praise from Under-21s manager Terry Burton after making his first appearance for five months in the 2-0 win over Reading a fortnight ago. Like Wilshere, the French international also played 90 minutes in the friendly against Chelsea - and is nearing a return to first-team duty.
Elsewhere, Burton will be hoping that talented youngster Serge Gnabry, fresh from making his Premier League debut against Norwich, can inspire the second string to victory on Merseyside, after starring against the Royals last time out.
Follow the @ArsenalLive Twitter account for live updates from Arsenal Under-21s’ game at Everton from 11.55am (UK time)Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source