Gunners midfielder has tried to take more responsibility and will be aiming to do just that against Hull in the FA Cup final
Jack Wilshere was at home, almost half way through his latest spell of rehab for a hairline fracture in a foot, watching football on television when he became the unsuspecting victim of a broadside from Paul Scholes. "It was a bit strange, out of the blue," he remembers. A piercing critique of Arsenal's habit of capitulating after they conceded a late equaliser at home to Swansea City suddenly changed direction as Scholes picked Wilshere out, even though he hadn't played for three weeks, and sniffed: "He doesn't look any better player now than he did when he was 17."
Wilshere, who is preparing for Arsenal's FA Cup final against Hull City on Saturday, was taken aback, and the disparagement got under his skin enough for him to feel compelled to do something. He wanted to speak to Scholes, to delve deeper into what he meant, so he sent a private message to a mutual footballing acquaintance on Twitter asking for Scholes's phone number. "Gary Neville wrote back to me: 'Just go easy on him'," smiles Wilshere.
That in itself is revealing. The perception – perhaps easily drawn because of the passionate streak in Wilshere's game – is that he would be keen to give something of a mouthful back to Scholes. But the reality is that Wilshere thought carefully about it and his motivation was that he felt driven to understand why Scholes would hold that view and what improvements he felt were needed. It was a mature response, based on his desire to better himself rather than the urge to argue.
"I remember watching it, he was having a go at Arsenal, and I was thinking: 'Is he going to come for me?' I sat down and talked to my dad, and a few of the coaches here, and I just wanted to hear what he thinks. I respect him so much and I think he can make a great coach for any young player. He has been there and done it so I wanted to hear what he had to say. We had quite a good chat. He is entitled to his opinion.
"If it had come from a rubbish player I could say what are you talking about? But it came from Paul Scholes. So I wanted to get to the bottom of it. I spoke to him, he explained it a bit better and told me what he thought I should work on. For me he was the best English midfielder of all time.
"He was right in a certain way. When I first burst on to the scene there was all this talk. I have had bad luck with injuries but I can't keep saying I've been injured a lot. There comes a time when you stop being a kid and I think that's what he's referring to. You have to start fulfilling that potential. This season I have improved a lot, scored a few more than I have in the past and got a few more assists. That side of things, you can keep the ball and you can look good but it's those stats that matter. That's what I have to build on."
He is so eager to push his game onwards and upwards. A return to fitness after a two-month absence in a half-hour cameo on Sunday against Norwich City was crucial because of the World Cup. He is desperate to play a part. He was genuinely worried he might miss out after injuring himself in a ferociously committed challenge with Daniel Agger during England's spring-time friendly with Denmark."Looking back on the tackle with Agger it was probably 70-30 in his favour, but I still went into it," he confesses. "That's me. I can't change that because it's a big part of my game. I know the manager at Arsenal has always said to me it's important not to lose that bite in my game. Without it, playing in midfield, especially in today's game, you can't be the same player."
At the time he felt no pain so he continued playing. "When I first did it, I didn't think anything of it. I carried on for 40 minutes. After the game I had a scan straight away and it didn't show anything. The doctor couldn't see it and I had to go to someone who specialises in reading scans to see it. So it was a bit frustrating. Next day I woke up and had about six missed calls from the doctor and I thought: Oh no. I went to see the specialist who looked after my right ankle and he looked and said it would take six weeks. It took a few days to get my head round it. I went away, cleared my head and then came back. I've been in that position before. I know what it takes. It takes a lot of work in the gym to keep fitness levels up, on the bike, and that gives you a better chance when you come back."
Fully healed, he is looking forward to what might be a memorable few weeks for club and country. Wilshere, who was a schoolboy in Arsenal's academy the last time they won the FA Cup in 2005, and is proud of his FA Youth Cup winners medal from 2009, keenly appreciates how much victory at Wembley would mean for his boyhood club.
Scholes's criticism about Arsenal lacking leaders is about to be put to the test. They have to absorb the pressure of being favourites against Hull, in a way they patently failed to do during their last final, against Birmingham City in 2011. "We've been here before in the Carling Cup. No disrespect but this is bigger than the Carling Cup," Wilshere says. "I'd like to think of myself as a leader and I like to think the manager thinks of me as a leader as well. We don't have to prove we have leaders to win this – we just have to win it."
He welcomes the fact Steven Gerrard sees him as a future England captain, although he is steady enough to suggest he will have to bide his time. "First of all, I'd like to be captain of my club," he says. "People say this is Gerrard's last World Cup, am I going to be England's next captain? No, I'm not. There's a lot of players ahead of me." He name-checks Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart for starters. "They are where I want to be. They've got experience. The most important thing for me now is to get those caps, have a full season without any injuries and just prove myself."
He is full of enthusiasm for the experience that awaits in Brazil. His first World Cup memories date back to France 98. "I remember Michael Owen's goal. I remember Beckham getting sent off. We lost to penalties against Argentina. It's every kid's dream to represent their country at a World Cup. But it doesn't happen for everyone so to be in the 23, not just for me but for my family, was massive."
The youthful feel of this England squad excites him. "I think it's a nice feeling to be part of that. Ashley Cole said it's time for the youngsters. You've seen other countries do it in the past. You've seen Germany, they look really strong. There are players who have played a full season in the Premier League. They are not that inexperienced. They have learned at the top level. The togetherness is important as well. We're all young. A lof of us have played together at under-21 level. We get on well. Gerrard's 34, we all get on with him, we all respect him, but the younger players understand each other a bit better off the pitch."Presumably, after that phone call, Scholes just might have a little more respect for the way Wilshere is trying to improve himself in the quest for better times for Arsenal and England.