Jack Wilshere interview: ‘I got taught the Arsenal way... now I teach it to the next generation’

Jack Wilshere interview: ‘I got taught the Arsenal way... now I teach it to the next generation’

Every time he drives through the gates of Arsenal's training ground, Jack Wilshere feels 16 again.

Wilshere is now 31 and Under-18s manager at the club after retiring as a player last year, but regularly gets "flashbacks" to his own days in the Arsenal academy as he bids to help the next generation follow in his footsteps.

"I see what they're going through and I know what they're going through," he tells Standard Sport. "I talk to the players a lot, both individually and collectively, about what it takes.

"You can just look at my career, it's not always going to be plain sailing. You are going to have moments, injuries, where you have to deal with it."

I have always been brought up with the ‘Arsenal Way’: dominate, try and create overloads across the pitch and kill teams by having the ball

Wilshere is one of the most famous graduates from Arsenal's academy, so much so he has been immortalised on one of the eight new pieces of artwork outside Emirates Stadium.

He made his senior debut aged 16 and played 197 times for Arsenal between 2008 and 2016, earning 34 caps for England, winning PFA Young Player of the Year in 2011 and lifting back-to-back FA Cups with the club in 2013 and 2014.

But injuries riddled Wilshere throughout his career and he retired last July following a four-month spell at Danish club Aarhus.

The decision to hang up his boots, Wilshere admits, was "really tough" at the time. But now he reflects on it differently and says working with youth teams at Arsenal last year led to him "falling in love" with coaching.

"I had probably made my mind up already [about quitting]," says Wilshere. "I still loved playing the game, but I wasn't fully committed to playing. I was more committed to coaching.

"I had to make that decision because I was a player who was always fully committed, and that's just the way I played. If I didn't have that, I didn't have that edge. Hopefully I can have that edge now I'm coaching."

Jack Wilshere during his early Arsenal days. (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Jack Wilshere during his early Arsenal days. (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Wilshere's decision to call time on his playing career was made easier by the prospect of working at Arsenal.

Before retiring, he spoke to academy manager and former team-mate Per Mertesacker, who convinced him to make the move into coaching by overseeing the Under-18s.

"He was really supportive and there for me, more as a friend than a boss," says Wilshere. "It's a lifestyle change, your whole life changes completely.

"When you are a player, it's the best job in the world. You turn up at 9am, you finish at 2pm, you come home. As a coach it's completely different."

Wilshere is all consumed by his work now and admits he struggles to switch off. He usually leaves home around 6.30am, sometimes listening to a coaching podcast on the drive to the training ground, and he does not return home until 12 hours later. Every training session is recorded, allowing Wilshere and his staff to study players' behaviours and traits.

He is still establishing his coaching philosophy, but clearly playing under Arsene Wenger has influenced him.

"I have always been brought up with the 'Arsenal Way', which is to dominate the ball, try and create overloads across the pitch and kill teams by having the ball," says Wilshere.

"That is really my football philosophy, but it's always evolving. You have to be able to adapt."

That is something Wilshere has learned from Mikel Arteta, and he insists the Arsenal manager is the one who truly inspired him to coach.

"I love his passion," he says. "I grew up with Arsene and Eddie [Howe], and they're completely different coaches.

"Arsene would say: 'That's fine, the opposition can do what they want. As long as we do what we do, we play our game, we'll win'. It's a bit of arrogance, but it never came across as arrogance with Arsene. It was confidence.

"But I have never really seen anyone like Mikel, with his intensity, passion and the way he cares."

The challenge now for Wilshere is developing players who can one day play in the senior side. He says the first team and academy are more aligned than ever, making that pathway easier.

Jack Wilshere at the unveiling of the new Emirates Stadium artwork. (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Jack Wilshere at the unveiling of the new Emirates Stadium artwork. (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

"Mikel and his staff let us play the game how we see it, but with the same details he would use," says Wilshere. "We have to do that for the players.

"If I have a player who plays right-back on Saturday, and then Monday morning Mikel says can we have him for training, and he's doing something different to what Mikel wants, we are not helping the player in the best way."

And that is all Wilshere wants to do — help Arsenal's future stars. He is learning every day and recently picked the brains of Cesc Fabregas when he visited the training ground as part of his own coaching development.

"To have him in for a couple of days and work with players was really good," says Wilshere. "I always looked up to him for his football brain."

One suspects Arsenal's young players feel the same about Wilshere.