Former Arsenal star Ray Parlour says he’s “gutted” that Jack Wilshere left the club, but that he understands why the midfielder prioritised regular football over remaining a Gunner.
Wilshere joined West Ham this month after turning down the offer of a new contract from Arsenal, which he joined when he was nine years old. That decision was made after conversation with new head coach Unai Emery, who refused to guarantee the midfielder regular playing time.
And at a media launch for the Arsenal legends game against Real Madrid in September, Parlour said: “I’m gutted that he’s left because I would love to see him still in an Arsenal shirt, but I’m really pleased he’s gone to a club to play football because there is nothing worse than training hard all week and then sitting in the stands.
“Jack Wilshere has made a big decision and it was his to make. He met the manager and realised he might have been third or fourth in the pecking order. As a player who has missed so much football he needs to play.
“He is a magnificent player — there are only two players I’ve seen as youngsters come straight through to the first-team that I have thought ‘these are going to be top, top stars.’ One was Jack and the other Cesc Fabregas.”
Former Arsenal left-back Nigel Winterburn, who is also set to play in the Sept. 8 legends game at the Emirates, said Wilshere should get credit for making a difficult decision in order to enhance his own career.
“It’s refreshing. I would have loved him to stay but when you talk about players at big clubs being on the bench but not moving on because of the salary they are on, we are seeing a player here who is desperate to play football,” Winterburn said.
“When a new manager comes to a club there are always surprises and players leaving. If he hadn’t had all the injuries he’s had he probably would have stayed and said ‘I’ll show you what I’m capable of doing, I’ll force my way into the team’ but when you have missed that amount of football you have to do something to get games.
“It’s not a massive shock to me because you always get a different manager with different ideas.”
Parlour also said he thought the empty seats at the Emirates were the decisive factor in Arsene Wenger having to step down after last season. Wenger said in an interview this week that he made a mistake by staying for 22 years at Arsenal, and Parlour said the Frenchman could have used one of the three recent FA Cup wins to bow out instead.
“There were a couple of occasions, after FA Cup wins, when maybe he could have gone but he genuinely loved the club,” Parlour said. “Arsenal made the decision to give him a new two-year contract but in the end the fans not turning up was the major factor for him to lose his job.”
Parlour and Winterburn both played in the legends game at Real Madrid in June, part of a double-header between the clubs. Proceeds from the return leg at the Emirates will go the Arsenal Foundation, which is working with Save the Children to build football pitches in Indonesia and for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Parlour also travelled to Indonesia last year to help open one of the pitches, and said it was an emotional experience.
“You couldn’t believe the faces of these kids when they saw the pitch,” he said. “I’ll always remember that for the rest of my life.”
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.