SINGAPORE, July 14 (Reuters) - Pre-season is so often hated by professional footballers, but for Arsenal’s injury-plagued midfielder Jack Wilshere it could not come soon enough.
The 23-year-old was on top form at the end of the last campaign as Arsenal successfully defended the FA Cup by beating Aston Villa 4-0 in the final. He also scored twice for England in their 3-2 win away to Slovenia in Euro 2016 qualifying.
It was a positive end to another mixed campaign for the young midfielder, who again spent too many months off the pitch recuperating from injury after damaging ankle ligaments in November.
“Yeah it’s a strange one, I finished last season quite strong after missing quite a big chunk of last season, which was frustrating and I got back to my best form just towards the end,” Wilshere told Reuters TV on Tuesday.
“I didn’t really want it to end but had a nice couple of weeks off and I‘m here ready to go.”
Like Wilshere, Arsenal also endured their share of frustration last term as a bright second half of the season failed to make up for a sluggish start.
They eventually finished third in the Premier League, 12 points behind London rivals Chelsea, who stormed to the title.
Arsenal’s last league title came in 2004 but Wilshere was optimistic that the arrival of goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea and a cohesive squad could help end that barren run.
“We think we have a great opportunity, when you bring a guy like Petr Cech in you know you are serious about things,” he said after launching Arsenal’s new away kit for the upcoming campaign.
”He is winner, he has been there, he has done it, he is a great character to have around, he is experienced, but we have strong players through the team as well and players who have had another year to settle and we have great team spirit here also.
“When you win the first trophy it makes you hungry for more, to add another one straight away, and then we have another one coming up with the Community Shield and we want to win that one and hopefully we can win the Premier League as well.”
Arsenal, though, are not the only side from last season’s top four who have been recruiting.
Manchester City and local rivals United have both splashed cash on high-profile acquisitions in recent days, with Bastian Schweinsteiger moving to Old Trafford and Raheem Sterling quitting Liverpool for the Etihad Stadium.
”I wouldn’t say I‘m worried,“ Wilshere said of the activity of their rivals. ”It’s going to make the Premier League interesting.
“United have improved, City are improving, Chelsea are going to be as strong as last year but we have gone up a level from where we were. Last season was a big step up for us, back-to-back FA Cups and third in the league, so we are confident about next season.”
Preparations for next season start with the Asian Trophy in Singapore with Arsenal taking on a local select side on Wednesday before playing Everton or Stoke City on Saturday.
The importance of a strong pre-season, both personally and for the team, was not lost on Wilshere.
“I‘m looking forward to it. It’s important for me to get a good pre-season in and when the season starts we have got to be ready,” he said.
“We haven’t got a European (Champions League) qualifier this year, which is nice, so we have a little bit more time to get ready and concentrate on the Premier League for the first couple of weeks and really get off to a good start.” (Additional reporting by Christophe Van Der Perre; editing by Toby Davis)