Jack Wilshere: How 'genius' Mikel Arteta is helping to inspire Arsenal's Instagram generation

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Jack Wilshere Arsenal 2022-23
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The Gunners Under-18s coach discusses his first season in the role ahead of Tuesday's FA Youth Cup semi-final against Manchester City

Jack Wilshere laughs when he’s asked whether he’s brought out a lightbulb during any of his pre-match team talks this season. “No, but I have done some quirky things which I won’t tell you,” replies Arsenal’s Under-18s boss.

The lightbulb question is of course in reference to Mikel Arteta, who was shown on Amazon’s 'All or Nothing' documentary last season using the prop during a pep talk to his players before a home game against Brighton.

It was a motivational approach that divided opinion, but it’s one that Wilshere can fully get behind.

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“When I was coming through there wasn’t really that side of coaching,” he says. “Arsene [Wenger] never brought a lightbulb through or played music before a game – but part of me feels it’s genius.

“With this generation, with Instagram, they’re looking at motivational videos and things to get them motivated all the time. I think it works and Mikel has done a great job at dipping into different things and building around that.

“With the lightbulb he was talking about connecting and building different energy and the fans. What he’s trying to say is make sure you show the fans you’ve got energy, fight and passion. That’s how I see it.

“How you get that across to the players is a big part of it. The basics of being passionate, having pride, if you go into a duel winning a duel, that’s important because it brings the fans with you. So the idea is to bring energy.”

  1. 'Everyone wants the perception of them to be good'

    'Everyone wants the perception of them to be good'

    Wilshere has certainly brought energy to Arsenal’s U18s this season.

    The 31-year-old took on the role last summer after deciding to call time on his playing career following a spell in Denmark.

    And on Tuesday night, he will be looking to guide his side into the FA Youth Cup final when they take on Manchester City at Emirates Stadium.

    So what might he be doing before kick-off? If it’s not lightbulbs, what does he do to motivate his players?

    “There’s different ways,” he say. “On a matchday, my process would be to give the players two hours before what we’re doing tactically, in possession, out of possession.

    “Then four or five minutes [before kick-off] we get everyone in a group and try different things, I’m not going to tell you what they are – some of them have worked, some of them haven’t.

    “You can talk about tactics and stuff, but when you have a connection with your players like Mikel does and you can see that he really cares, then players buy into that and they’ll do anything you want.”

    Coaching has certainly moved on since Wilshere was starring for England and Arsenal, even if that was still just a relatively short time ago. Players, especially young players, need to be handled differently.

    The odd hairdryer-type rant might still come in handy now and again, but Wilshere believes the most important thing for coaches in the modern game is learning how to bring out the very best of their squad through other, less confrontational means.

    It’s something he is continuously working on and he’s even drawing on his experience of being a father to help him understand what it takes to make the next generation of players tick.

    “Maybe it’s a bit about the age thing that I can connect with the players,” he says. “Also maybe being a parent helps. My kids are closer in age to my players than I am, so I can see what they need and what they want.

    “That’s what I mean about the Instagram and social media side of things. Perception is key about everything. Everyone wants the perception of them to be good. If you have an understanding of that like Mikel does – he’s a really intelligent coach, but also a person, and knows how to motivate people.”

  2. Wilshere’s learning curve

    Wilshere’s learning curve

    This season has been a big learning curve for Wilshere, not just on the pitch, but off it as well.

    It’s the first time since he broke through into the Arsenal first team as a teenager himself that his focus has not just been on performing week in, week out.

    Now he has other things to worry about. There’s the coaching of course, but there’s also everything that comes with it.

    “Obviously, it was a different world I was entering,” he says. “The corporate world, all the emails, I was like ‘what’s going on here?!’. But now I’m in a place where I’ve worked that out, I’ve structured my day better. The coaching stuff I absolutely love.

    “I’ve said this before, but it’s given me back the real deep love for football and I didn’t even know I’d lost it to be honest. But when I came back here, and it might be because it’s Arsenal, I felt like people genuinely cared about me, which is nice. Everyone wants to be around people who care for them.”

    Wilshere knows more than anyone what it takes to progress through from Arsenal’s academy to make it to the first-team.

    It’s a path he successfully plotted over a decade ago and he’s watched on proudly in recents years as the likes of Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe have followed in his footsteps.

    Now he is trying to help the next crop come through, and he believes the success that the current Hale End graduates are having in Arteta’s senior side can only help with that.

    “What role models,” he gushes. “Honestly, you could not ask for anything better. Bukayo will come down and talk to the young players. Before the last game he sent us a video.

    “To have someone who, in my opinion, is probably England’s best player and affecting games in the Premier League week in, week out, is amazing and inspiring for the kids. And to see how humble he is with it.

    “What he went through after he missed a penalty. To come back and be ruthless and relentless in the pursuit of getting better and improving. For me he gets better week in, week out. Whenever I see him he looks better than the week before. What a role model for the players.”

  3. Will success hamper development?

    Will success hamper development?

    The big question now is will the success the first-team is enjoying make it far more difficult for the next Saka or Smith Rowe to come through?

    Those two benefited hugely from Arsenal’s struggles in recent years. Had the first-team been thriving, they might not have been given the opportunities they were to come in and make a difference.

    “I think you can look at it two ways,” says Wilshere. “If they [the first-team] keep raising the level and we don’t, then that gap becomes too big. So we have to keep pushing. But for me it’s easier to come into a better team. That’s why I think credit to Emile and Bukayo.

    “I don’t think Arsenal were quite at rock bottom, but the team weren’t playing as well as they are now. They came in and all of a sudden everyone was looking at them to make the difference. And they did.

    “So you can look at it both ways. Whether you want to go into a team like that, or be the player that’s in and around the squad.

    Amario Cozier-Duberry for example, he’s had the best experience this year. He’s been around a team that’s winning and a coach that demands winning. If he can get on the pitch he’s in a winning team and for me it’s better. Other people might see it differently though.”

  4. Gunning for Youth Cup glory

    Gunning for Youth Cup glory

    Cozier-Duberry was with the senior squad once again on Saturday as they beat Leeds United to restore their eight-point advantage at the top of the Premier League.

    The 17-year-old winger will be back with the U18s on Tuesday night, however, when they host Man City in the FA Youth Cup semi-final at Emirates Stadium.

    Wilshere knows exactly what it takes to win the Youth Cup. In 2009, he was part of the last Arsenal team to do it and now, 14 years later, he is looking to complete a personal double by guiding his talented young team to the prestigious trophy in his first season as a coach.

    His side have already seen off Millwall, Newcastle, Watford and Cambridge in the early rounds, but City promises to be the sternest test yet.

    For Wilshere, it will be a special occasion, and he will be drawing on all the experiences he went through when he rose to fame with some sparkling performances in Arsenal’s victorious run to the final 2009.

    “I’ve spoken to the players a few times about that,” he says. “I actually see a lot of similarities from that team in my team now. We had exceptional individuals in that team in 2009 – me, Henri Lansbury, Francis Coquelin, Luke Ayling went on to have a really good career. And I can see that in this team. 

    “We have certain individuals that have the ability to make the difference in a game. And also, in that team, there was a togetherness. We call it unity now in our group. I had a moment against Watford – we were 2-0 down at half-time and I was outside the dressing room talking to my staff. I was thinking: 'I’m going to go after them, I need to get into them'. I walked in there and I could just see they were down, they were dead, finished, gone. 

    “I didn’t say anything tactical. I just said: 'Lads, look around this room. Look at the individuals in this room. It can happen, we can be 2-0 down – that’s fine – but we’re one goal away from winning this comfortably'. 

    “And then I just saw them lift and my assistant said a few words and it was a completely different team. I think we had that in the [2009] group as well.”