JACK WILSHERE should be the first name on England’s teamsheet this summer if they are to stand a chance of winning the World Cup.
That is the view of lifelong pal and Bournemouth ace Benik Afobe.
Striker Afobe, 24, came through the youth ranks with Wilshere at Arsenal and they were team-mates again during the midfielder’s loan at the Cherries last term.
And if Wilshere is to star in Russia, he will have Bournemouth and boss Eddie Howe to thank for putting him on the right path after a string of injury setbacks.
Although he got crocked towards the end of last season against Spurs, Wilshere managed 29 Premier League appearances in what was largely considered a successful spell on the south coast.
Afobe will welcome Wilshere back to Bournemouth today, with the Gunners ace having started the last seven games.
Boss Arsene Wenger expects him to be fit for the trip to Dorset after an injury scare during Wednesday’s 0-0 Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg draw against Chelsea.
Afobe told SunSport: “Gareth Southgate has got to take Jack to the World Cup if he is fit and maintains his current form.
“He’s on fire at the moment and has to be the first name on the teamsheet.
“I’ve known Jack since I was eight and he was nine. I’ve always believed in him, as have the people around him.
“But I genuinely think most of the nation have believed in him, too.
“He has been injured quite a few times — his knee, his ankle — some unfortunate injuries that have slowed down the progression of his career.
“Now some people are shocked that Jack is back playing consistently. He really is on a mission to prove the doubters wrong. He also wants to prove those who have backed him right.
“The problem has always been can he play 25 to 30 league games in a season?
“When he came to Bournemouth, he had come back from an injury. But now he can play and hopefully he can be mostly clear of problems.
“His ankle locked during a tackle on Wednesday — but he says he will be OK to play against us.
“To be fair, Southgate does like him. He is highly rated by the FA and all the England coaches. They just want to see him week in, week out.
“You want to be picking players on form and that is what every player goes by.
“I don’t think players — Jack included — mind not being selected for England if they’re not playing. He’s just back into the Arsenal team and he’s been their best player for the last five games.
“England need him because, let’s be frank, he’s one of the most creative English players over the last decade.
“I’m not just saying it because he’s a mate — but for this country’s sake he needs to be on the plane to Russia.
“Hopefully he can maintain his form. There are still five months left of the season and he has just got to keep going and stay fit, create goals and be happy.
“He is always at his best when he has got a smile on his face — and that is exactly what I’m seeing right now. Long may it continue.”
Afobe played a big part in Wilshere signing for the Cherries last season. The hitman persuaded him to take up Howe’s offer of being able to play first-team football every week.
He said: “Jack proved to people he could play a large chunk of games in the Premier League in a season.
“We work very hard. We had to press opponents and Jack wasn’t some sort of luxury player.
“He didn’t get any special treatment. He saw it was a different sort of football to Arsenal.
“But that was no problem to Jack because he is a humble guy anyway.
“He’s a Hitchin boy from a good family. I’ve known his mum, dad, brother, sister and wife for years.
“And he’s never been a big-time Charlie. At Bournemouth, it was nice for him to be around other English lads, his best mate and a manager who believed in him.”
Afobe left Arsenal three years ago but remains a big fan of the club. And he is backing the Gunners to grab a top-four spot despite intense competition.
He said: “Manchester City have won the title. Then you’ve got Chelsea and Manchester United just under that.
“It’s going to be a battle of the two North London clubs and Liverpool for fourth. But I think Arsenal can get it.
“They’ve been inconsistent but when they’ve turned it on, they’ve done it big style. And they’ve given us games that the neutrals have loved.
“It goes to show the sort of football they can play. If they get more consistency they will climb the table.”
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