Jack Wilshere has told Arsenal’s young players to look to the likes of Bukayo Saka to see what is possible for them.
The former Arsenal and England midfielder now manages the club’s Under-18s and leads them into an FA Youth Cup semi-final against Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.
Wilshere, who won the Youth Cup with the Gunners in 2009, has used his own experiences in the competition to spur on the latest intake of players.
But it is the current success of Saka – as well as contemporaries Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson – that the 31-year-old is telling his squad to emulate as they spearhead the charge for a first Premier League title in 19 years.
Saka in particular has been in great form this season – scoring 12 league goals and laying on 10 assists as Mikel Arteta’s side sit eight points clear.
Asked if his players should see Saka and co as an example of a pathway into the first team at Arsenal, Wilshere told the PA news agency: “Yes, 100 per cent.
“Everyone will realise how special it is to win the Premier League with this squad, even with the players that they brought in but a lot of the squad are their players, Arsenal players.
“I grew up dreaming of winning the league, it is the same for these players and that dream could be coming true and there’ll be a lot of other younger players in the system whose new dream will be to emulate Bukayo or Emile.
“I think it’s a little bit extra special because they grew up in a time where Arsenal haven’t won the league.
“For me it was different because I grew up and we had (Dennis) Bergkamp, (Thierry) Henry winning the league, challenging for the title – we were invincible.
“These players grew up when we had dropped out of the Champions League but it is an opportunity for these players to create something special.
“Bukayo, Emile, Eddie, they are 20, 21, 22. They can sustain it for years and go on and really create a period in the club’s history – some of the younger players now could end up being involved in that. That is the pathway, it is clear to them and it is good for them to have those targets, those dreams.”
Wilshere himself came through the ranks at Arsenal before going on to make 197 first-team appearances and win two FA Cups.
His career was ultimately stunted by injury but he sees the same focus on developing young talent in Arteta’s current ranks as he did when he broke into the set-up under Arsene Wenger.
“Arsene obviously bought that in – bringing me through, bringing Cesc (Fabregas) through,” he added.
“He brought through so many players, never really caring about the age – if they were good enough, they were old enough.
“Credit to Mikel for carrying on that tradition. We do back our young players, we do believe in them and we do push them and we’ve had rewards for it.
“It gives me belief as a coach and it should give the players a massive lift to just to stick to what we’re doing and try hard every day – the manager is really good and we train with the first team a lot.
“Sometimes that’s all it takes, is getting in front of them – not even just Mikel but his staff, if they see something then there’s your opportunity.”
The Under-18s have enjoyed the added bonus of Wilshere joining in the occasional training session of late – the 34-cap former England international preparing for his Soccer Aid debut by working alongside his young charges.
“I can’t wait,” he said of the charity match at Old Trafford.
“I’ve been joining in a little bit with my players over the last two or three weeks to get myself a little bit more ready.
“I do some fitness stuff anyway, so I should be alright but when I joined in the other day, I was training with the lads and it’s completely different.”
:: Tickets for Soccer Aid For UNICEF on Sunday 11th June 2023, are now on sale via www.socceraid.org.uk/tickets with a family of four able to attend for just £60 – two adults and two children.