Arsene Wenger calls Jack Wilshere's 90-minute return for Arsenal 'ideal'
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger says Jack Wilshere had an "ideal" return to full action in Wednesday's Carabao Cup win over Doncaster Rovers, but still needs to be eased gradually back into the first team.
Wilshere was one of Arsenal's best performers in the 1-0 win at the Emirates and completed 90 minutes for the Gunners for the first time since September 2014 -- a three-year span interrupted by injuries and last season's loan spell at Bournemouth.
He looked like he'd never been away, though, running the midfield with his natural aggressive playing style -- although Wenger tried to play down expectations on the playmaker after the game.
"I wanted to leave him on to give him 90 minutes, and overall I think it was an ideal game for him tonight to gain confidence and fitness," Wenger said. "We'll see after that how he responds. I think you have to put this game into perspective as well, it did not exactly have the intensity of a Premier League game. But it's important for him to build him up gradually."
Theo Walcott scored the winner in the first half for Arsenal with a deft finish after being picked out in the area by Alexis Sanchez, but limped off midway through the second half. Walcott had been clutching the back of his leg, but Wenger said the forward had not suffered a muscle injury.
"He had a kick behind his knee at halftime. In the second half he got another kick. I don't think it's big. It looks to me a kick, not more than that," Wenger said.
Sanchez also played the full 90 minutes as Wenger said the Chile forward needed game time to regain full match fitness, having been just a substitute in the 0-0 draw at Chelsea on Sunday. Wenger said Sanchez should be ready to start Monday's Premier League game against West Brom, but was more cautious when asked how soon Wilshere may be included in his league lineup.
"I don't know, we'll go game by game. We play next week three games ... so I'll have to balance the teams and to see who I play and where," Wenger said. "For me he's available now to play, and the decision I will have to make is when to play him. He needs 90 minutes at that intensity repeatedly.
"After that he will soon be back. You see that in his movement, it is natural. Everybody is looking at him because of course everybody expects him to come back to his best, and I wish that as well."
Arsenal had a number of chances to kill off the game in the first half, with Olivier Giroud hitting the crossbar when he met a chip from Wilshere with a spectacular scissor-kick attempt. But the Gunners lost much of their intensity in the second half and Doncaster even came close to equalising when Matty Blair's header hit the bar after a corner.
"We started well, and in the first 25 minutes had a good pace in our game and a good flow. And we slowly lost a bit our cohesion and our speed in our passing and it decreased our level," Wenger said. "After that we did the job even though we did not have anymore the style we want to play and the flair to kill the game off."
The only negative for the Gunners was Calum Chambers having to come off at half-time with a recurrence of the hip injury that had sidelined the centre-back at the start of the season. Wenger said Chambers is expected to be out for up to two more weeks.
Arsenal will host Norwich in the next round.
Defender Per Mertesacker also praised Wilsher for being "brave'' on his first Arsenal start in 493 days and drawing plenty of plaudits for his performance.
"It was very good to have him back out there,'' the German said. "You can see that he's getting more comfortable with his position now. He's brave now and he trusts his body. That's the most important thing, that he's capable of playing 90 minutes.
"He will just grow with that and he was vocal as well, which was important for us, especially at the end. He kept the ball well in tight situations and to come out of that is vintage Jack.
"That's what we want to see from him in the future here at Arsenal.''as a big personality in the Premier League.''
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.