Arsene Wenger backs Jack Wilshere to get back to his best at Arsenal
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger is confident that "hungry" Jack Wilshere will be back to his best this season, as the midfielder nears a full comeback from his latest injury.
Wilshere could make his first Arsenal appearance since August 2016 in the Europa League game against Cologne on Thursday, having completed his rehab from an ankle fracture he suffered while on loan at Bournemouth.
He hasn't been a regular in Wenger's side for more than three years because of a series of injuries and last season's loan spell, but the Arsenal boss is confident he could have the old Wilshere back.
"Yes, if he is injury free he will come back [to his best]," Wenger said. "He's very hungry and very determined. He's not completely [fit], but he's getting there every week. For him, I think he enjoys being back and he enjoys to compete for his place. What I see in training is positive."
Wilshere's return would add some much-needed depth to central midfield, where Mohamed Elneny is now the only backup to Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey as Francis Coquelin is sidelined with a hamstring injury.
It would also please those Arsenal fans who still view Wilshere as one of England's most talented midfielders and hope he can fulfil the promise he showed as a 19-year-old in a stellar performance against Barcelona in a 2011 Champions League game.
That's a performance Wenger is also hoping Wilshere will be able to replicate, and said he shouldn't change his playing style despite the number of serious injuries he has suffered since then.
"You have certainly seen the video of when he played against Barcelona. His game is about that, he needs this little burst to get away from people," Wenger said. "Because he can turn the game forward. If you can turn the game forward, you need your legs to get out of the pressure. And that is coming back in training as well."
Wilshere's hot temper has also got him in trouble in the past, including during a recent under-23 game when he was sent off for fighting with an opponent after a tough tackle. Wenger, though, said he didn't feel the need to speak with Wilshere about that incident.
"I didn't talk to him at all after that. Because I was not at that game, and I could understand his reaction," Wenger said. "When you have been out so many times, to suffer a bad tackle when you've just come back from a fracture. Sometimes you have to be comprehensive as well."
Wenger also confirmed that Alexis Sanchez will be in the squad against Cologne, unlike Mesut Ozil and Ramsey who are both set to be rested ahead of Sunday's trip to Chelsea.
Sanchez was on the bench against Bournemouth on Saturday, and Wenger said the Chile forward still needs to regain full fitness after missing the start of the season with an abdominal injury.
"He's a bit short of fitness. Because he had a long holiday and after that he had an injury," Wenger said. "He's like everybody else, he needs to practice and he needs competition. The modern game doesn't tolerate, no matter how good you are, for you to be off your fitness level. But he's conscious of it, he's working very hard."
And Wenger again reiterated that Sanchez's mindset is in the right place despite his disappointment over missing out on a move to Manchester City on transfer deadline day.
"You can be destabilised when you don't know where you belong. But he tells me that he's focused and 100 percent on his game," Wenger said. "I had a conversation with him, but I didn't have to raise his spirits at all."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.