Two days before Arsenal face the MLS All-Stars on Thursday (7:30 pm ET, ESPN, UniMás, TSN, RDS), one of the Gunners' most famous faces looked fully fit and ready to get down to business.
“I feel good,” said midfielder Jack Wilshere, just a few weeks’ break off his Euro 2016 stint with England. “It’s the best I’ve felt in a long time.”
Wilshere has survived both a tough Euro campaign with England and a tough battle back to fitness with Arsenal over the last season. But with a training session under his belt in San Jose, California, he said he felt positive for both club and country – particularly about the appointment of Sam Allardyce to lead the Three Lions.
“Ever since I was young, growing up, watching his teams play, all I remember is them being organized and having a style of play that gets results, and that’s what we need now as a country – a big character,” said Wilshere. “We know that we can qualify for things, that’s not the problem. It’s just when you get to the major tournaments, and dealing with the pressure from the fans, from the media, from everyone.”
That pressure, he said, is the first thing he hopes Allardyce can address.
“The fear that comes with playing for England, that’s a major thing we need to deal with,” he said. “Because if you look through our team, we’ve got top-class players and we should be competing in the semifinals of Euro, and the finals, and not going out to teams that we should really beat.”
Back at Arsenal, though, he also said things were on the upswing, too, especially with the arrival of much-discussed Swiss international Granit Xhaka. This week marks his first training with the team, and Wilshere already rates his performance.
“I’ve played against him a few times with England when he was playing for Switzerland and he’s a good player, a strong player, disciplined, who can start attacks and also protect the back four,” he said of Xhaka. “So I think we’re going to see a lot more of him over here in the States in the games, and hopefully Premier League as well.”
With Xhaka joining an already-talented squad, Wilshere also said he thinks Arsenal could come out ahead in a stacked top tier of Premier League teams this season.
“This year is going to be interesting. There are six or seven teams who could potentially challenge for the trophy. Man United have got a new manager, [Manchester] City have got a new manager; both managers are known for winning things wherever they go. And Chelsea as well. And then there are Leicester City, who are going to have to deal with a totally different pressure of being champions last year,” he said.
“We feel we’ve got better as well,” Wilshere continued. “Over the year we finished fourth, then third, then second. Hopefully we can go better than that this year and win it.”
First, though there’s the matter of the MLS All-Star game, and Arsenal’s friendly against Chivas at StubHub Center in Carson, California on Sunday.
Even Wilshere confessed that he might get star-struck during Thursday's proceedings. By whom? New York City FC’s Andrea Pirlo, of course.
“He’s easy on the ball, he’s always in the right position, he can produce moments of magic when he picks the ball up from deep and starts attacks off. He’s also been a player that England have hated playing against for many years, so I’m looking forward to playing against him,” Wilshere said.
“Hopefully, I can get Pirlo’s shirt.”