“We have a lot of good English players here. Trust me, I will give you a good national team. I will supply a successful England team for you.”
That was the pledge Arsene Wenger made to the press pack during the Emirates Cup in August.
Three months later six Arsenal players were named in the England squad for the friendly with Scotland and the Euro 2016 qualifier against Slovenia.
"Calum's a natural. Footballing-wise he's good enough to play for England so that's no problem"
Chief among the half dozen-strong Gunners contingent was Jack Wilshere – named man-of-the-match in his previous two games for Roy Hodgson’s side.
Jack is a mainstay in the national team now, and has been used in the crucial ‘anchor role’ at the base of England’s midfield diamond lately. When the Arsenal Magazine caught up with him prior to England’s November fixtures, Jack said he was enjoying his heightened level of responsibility for his country, especially now he has so many club team-mates to share it with.
“It's a nice change to see six of us in there,” he says with a smile at the Arsenal training ground. “I've been in squads in the past where there was just me on my own, and over the last six months it was usually just me and Chambo, so to have a few more in is great. Especially to see Gibbo there too. He's someone I grew up with so it's great he's back.”
Although still only 22, Jack is one of the more experienced internationals at the club, with 24 caps to his name going into the Slovenia match. At the other end of the spectrum is Calum Chambers. The teenager made his senior Three Lions debut in September, and Jack says having some friendly faces around you from your club helps integration into the national setup.
“I think it does when you are in the group for the first time,” he states. “For Calum for example it's nice to have us around him. I'm pretty comfortable with most of the players in the squad now, I get on with them and would say that they are friends now as well as team mates. So for the younger players coming in it helps you to settle in when you know a few of the other players.
“I know I was nervous when I first joined in the England squad, so I'm sure it was similar for Calum too. To be fair though he's a natural. Footballing-wise he's good enough to play at that level so that's no problem. He's shown that in the few months he's been at Arsenal.
"It's not just about your ability though. We are away for a long time when we go with England, so you have to mix with different people, and the work is quite intense, we want to get a lot done. He's been great though. He's a confident lad and he's fitted in well.”
Jack says it’s natural that the Arsenal players tend to hang around together when they are on international duty (“we’re all mates, we’re all of a similar age”) but adds that the whole England squad is united, and he’s also close to Joe Hart, James Milner and Gary Cahill in particular.
He insists though that having a core of players from one club can lead to a better understanding within the team on the pitch. After all, the Germany side that won the World Cup in the summer relied on a sizeable Bayern Munich presence, while the successful Spanish side from the previous tournament was packed with Barcelona players.
“I think it does help,” Jack continues. “When you are comfortable, playing with freedom, you play better. You are in a better place mentally and you enjoy it more, so it must help.
“The style of play is quite different at England compared to Arsenal, especially as we have adopted a new formation for England recently. That seems to be working quite well. There's a bit of work to do on it defensively, but generally it's going well. The Liverpool players play that formation every week, so they know it inside out. But it takes a bit of getting used to for us, so it is nice to have some players who play the Arsenal way in the England team alongside you.
“Also the style we are trying to adopt with England is similar to the Arsenal style, where everyone is confident on the ball and wants to create chances.”
It's a far cry from August 2010, when Jack made his senior England debut – during the Fabio Capello era – and was one of only three Arsenal players in the squad.
Then aged 18, Jack was the 10th youngest debutant in the country’s history, but it was a natural progression for the Stevenage- born youngster, who had represented England Under-16s as a 14-year-old, and the under-21 side when he was just 17.
Jack came on as a late sub for his first senior cap, during a 2-1 friendly win over Hungary at Wembley, with England looking to start a new era after the disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa.
“My main memory is of the night before the game, I was sick and had to go to hospital!” he reveals. “It turned out to be nothing serious, but obviously it wasn't ideal preparation. I was desperate to play though. I came on near the end for Steven Gerrard, which was amazing because when I had first joined up, I was like – that's Steven Gerrard! I was just 18. I'd played a few games for Bolton but I hadn’t started for Arsenal in the Premier League. It was a weird feeling, but it was a great day for me and my family.
"My brother is four years older than me, so playing with his mates made me a bit tougher. You had to survive first if you wanted to play football"
“As for the game itself,” he continues, “I played about 10 minutes. We were winning so I just had to come on and help see the result out. I came on in the number ten position, behind Peter Crouch up front. I got booked I think, which has become normal since then! Kieran Gibbs made his debut in the same game – he came on at half-time. He did really well.”
To appear for the full England side was a childhood ambition realised for Jack. Growing up as a West Ham fan, and hearing from his dad all about ‘how West Ham won the World Cup in 1966,’ Jack admits to being more of a fan of international football than club football as a youngster.
“Yep, definitely. Those are the games that really stand out from when I was young. I was a West Ham fan, and I don't remember too many of those games to be fair, but you always remember the England games at the 1998 World Cup. Those are my early memories of watching England: Michael Owen scoring that goal against Argentina, Becks getting sent off. I was six at the time, but I remember David Batty and David Beckham were playing, people like that. It was before Gerrard's time, but we had a good team.
“My dad took me to Wembley to watch England as well. I remember a game against Mexico, we won 2-0 and Teddy Sheringham scored. It was in 1997 I think, so I was only about five. Those are the games I remember well from my childhood rather than club games.
“Also, in 2002, I was at school when the World Cup was played in Korea. I remember we used to come into school early and watch the England games in the morning in the assembly hall. I remember we lost to Brazil, and we all watched that together at school.”
So did these early experiences of watching England sow the seeds for Jack’s future career ambitions? Did he dream of becoming the next Gazza during those formative years?
“Well I was playing at Luton between the ages of seven and nine and at that age you don't really think too far ahead. Of course all I ever wanted to do was play football, but I was just enjoying it, and when you are seven or eight you don't understand how far it can go, you just love doing it.”
Jack argues that it’s precisely due to the freedom he had while playing as a youngster, and his love for the game, that he went on to represent Arsenal and England.
“I used to play all the time in the street as a kid," he recalls. "I used to get home from school, drop my bag off and literally go out and play football. Of course that's probably a big reason why I'm where I am today. All I remember when I was younger was having a ball at my feet and playing football. I used to play a lot with older boys, which helped me too. My brother is four years older than me, so playing with his mates made me a bit tougher. You had to survive first if you wanted to play football.
“Nowadays people in this country sometimes get a bit carried away with saying you have to follow instruction all the time,” he continues. “Of course you have to listen to your coaches, but at that age you need to do what you want a bit, and express yourself. I remember I used to play a school game on Tuesday after school, then go to training, then play on Saturday and on Sunday as well.
“Now it's more about following routine. Yes you need good coaching but I also think it's important to have a bit of freedom to play the way you want to.”
And it's a relaxed approach Jack intends to take with his son's interest in football. "Well Archie is three now," he says smiling, "I don't know if he will go into football, I've not really thought about it. If he likes it then it's up to him, I'd be happy for him to go into it. He kicks a ball around a bit but he's not that interested in it yet – he'd rather pick it up! When he started he was kicking it more with his left, but lately he's more right footed, so hopefully he will be both."
Jack has grown up within football. He's used to living with the intense media scrutiny that all Premier League players are subject to, but he says that the attention is intensified yet further when you are playing for your country. Every game, every comment is analysed and re-analysed when England are involved, especially when it comes to the major tournaments.
"I've only been playing for four or five years at that level, but you can see the difference massively to playing for your club," he says. "When we have a press conference here with Arsenal before a Champions League game, it's a bit more relaxed, they only ask you a few questions. With England there are double the people in there, they ask you loads of questions. I've been caught out before by it when I've said something I shouldn't have. All of a sudden it's blown up.
"I love playing for my country though, don't get me wrong, so I'm not going to moan. You can understand the attention because people in this country love football, but at times you feel it gets a bit much. I believe you should always say what you think, try to be yourself, but you find you have to be more guarded sometimes because of what the reaction might be.
"And the pressure the managers are under is crazy," he adds. "At Wembley during the games there is a camera on the manager the whole time. Literally right in his face the whole game. How can that be right? The pressure is ridiculous. The big gap between the games probably doesn't help with that, because there isn’t the opportunity to put a bad result right. That's why it's a bit more intense when we go away."
There are more than 20 senior internationals in the Arsenal first- team squad, representing 10 different countries, so there tends to be a disjointed feel around the training ground during international weeks.
Players return from various parts of the world, usually after contrasting fortunes for their nations, and Jack admits it can be an odd dynamic as they look to re-focus on domestic matters.
"Yeah, it's a bit strange. We all chat about the games and where we've all been playing that week. People come back on different days, but by about Thursday we're usually all there in the gym having a warm down, chatting on the exercise bikes and having a bit of banter about the different games.
"What's really strange," he adds, "is when you play against an Arsenal team mate. It happened against Germany last season, when Per scored at Wembley. You don't want to injure your team mates or anything, but at the end of the day you're representing your country so you can't hold back. You are aware of it when you are on the pitch, definitely."
"I missed a lot of football through injury so who knows, maybe I would be nearer 50 caps without those setbacks, but I definitely want to get to 100 caps if I can"
So what does the future hold at international level for Jack? What are his ambitions for England? He doesn't turn 23 until New Year's Day yet he's already among the 10 most capped England players in Arsenal history, and the most capped English midfielder the club have ever had.
"That makes me feel proud, I didn't know that," he says. "I know that Paul Merson and Alan Ball played a few games for England when they were here, but to know I've got more than them is nice to hear. I'm still young so hopefully there's more to come. Gerrard and Lampard passed 100 caps, and now Wayne Rooney's getting there too and he's still in his 20s.
"I missed a lot of football through injury so who knows, maybe I would be nearer 50 caps without those setbacks, but I definitely want to get to 100 caps if I can."
And if Jack was granted one football wish, would he want to lift the Premier League or Champions League with Arsenal, or the World Cup with England?
"It's a tough one," he says grinning, "but I'd have to say to win the World Cup, and can I do it as captain please?!"
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