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Sunday 19 February 2017

Wenger wishes Wilshere was back at Gunners

Arsenal boss short of midfield options as he makes the FA Cup 'a big priority'

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere is on loan at Bournemouth
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere is on loan at Bournemouth

Arsene Wenger admits he could do with having Jack Wilshere at Arsenal as he is left short of midfield options ahead of Saturday's FA Cup tie at Preston.

Wilshere was allowed to leave the Gunners on a season-long loan move to Bournemouth in a bid to prove his fitness and earn a new contract at the Emirates Stadium.

The temporary move has done the England international good and he has enjoyed a run of games on the south coast, something he had failed to do in three years at Arsenal as he was plagued with injuries.

There is no option for Arsenal to recall the 25-year-old despite injuries ruling out Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, while Mohamed Elneny is away on international duty with Egypt.

Asked if he regretted allowing Wilshere to leave, Wenger said: "Yes, I could use him now.

"But if he had not played until now, he would not be ready to play now. What looks unfair at some moments in the season is that you know at some stage you could need the player.

Balance

"But even at the start you need to have the right balance between competition and numbers and chances for the player to play. And still today I think it was the right decision for him to go."

Wenger also revealed he still intends to take up an option to extend the contracts of both Cazorla and Per Mertesacker - despite the pair still being on the treatment table.

Both players see their current deals expire at the end of the season, but the club have the option to extend them for a further 12 months.

Mertesacker has yet to feature for the Gunners this season after suffering a severe knee injury on the eve of the campaign, while Wenger revealed on Thursday that Cazorla's recovery from ankle surgery will take longer than the three months he had initially anticipated.

Despite their continued injury concerns, the pair, both 32, look set to be handed new deals with Wenger keen to keep their experience in and around the squad.

Asked if their contract extensions would be affected by their respective injures, the Arsenal boss said: "No. We have an option on both of them and I think we will take it. For their qualities as football players firstly but as well for their mental guidance. We need to have a balance between youth and experience. They are important in that.

"The priority first is football player but as well for their mental guidance. We need to have a balance between youth and experience and they are important in that as well."

Wenger said that Cazorla's return is yet to be pencilled in after the Spainiard underwent surgery on a troublesome Achilles at the beginning of December.

"At the moment, he is far from returning," he said. "It's not going as quickly as I imagined. It could be a bit longer (than three months).

"It is frustrating because he's such a great player and because he has started the season in such a tremendous way. He was the dominating player in our squad at the start of the season and we suddenly lost him."

While Cazorla's season started well, Mertesacker's is yet to begin whatsoever after the German World Cup winner injured his knee in a pre-season game at Lens in July. He is back training again but Wenger believes he too is some way short of returning to action.

Asked if Mertesacker was close to coming back, he said: "No. He had a little calf problem. He's on the pitch but not close. He's still three or four weeks away, not more."

Wenger insists he plans on picking a strong XI for the third-round tie at Deepdale, although Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez will be rested.

Many clubs, not restricted only to the Premier League, have suggested they will make drastic alterations to their starting line-ups for their respective third-round ties as they look to manage fixture congestion and keep fringe players happy.

But Wenger, who has won the competition a record-equalling six times during his two-decade tenure as Gunners boss, has said he will only make a couple of notable changes to his strongest side.

Arsenal have lifted the FA Cup 12 times in their history - a feat only matched by Manchester United - and won the competition back to back in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons.

The first of those consecutive successes, a 3-2 extra-time victory over Hull, arguably saved Wenger his job after a decade without silverware had seen calls for him to leave his post reach fever pitch.

With Tuesday's 3-3 draw at Bournemouth leaving Arsenal fifth in the league and a difficult Champions League round of 16 tie against Bayern Munich on the horizon, the FA Cup could once again offer the best chance of success for Wenger this season - and he is not intending to take the third-round trip to Deepdale lightly. "It is a big priority for us," he said of the FA Cup.

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