Wilshere denies smoking

midfielder Jack Wilshere has re-iterated his stance against smoking
after being photographed with a cigarette and receiving a stern
warning from manager Arsene Wenger.

Wilshere was pictured with a cigarette outside a London
nightclub in the early hours of Thursday morning as players wound
down following Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Napoli earlier in the week,
when the 21-year-old had started on the bench.

Wenger, whose side head to West Brom on Sunday looking to
maintain their place at the top of the Barclays Premier League,
spoke out against the health issues of smoking in his pre-match
press conference on Friday morning, where he

insisted he would to take up the issue directly with the

Wilshere’s representatives maintained the player was taking part
in a “prank” where he agreed to hold the cigarette as part of a
“dare”, stressing he was “utterly committed to fitness and a
healthy lifestyle”.

The England international himself responded Friday afternoon by
posting a photograph on his official Twitter feed of France World
Cup winner Zinedine Zidane smoking, which he then followed it up
with a post of “But for the record….I don’t smoke!”

Wenger will have left the player in no doubt as to his future

“I disagree completely with that behaviour,” he said. “I don’t
know really what happened, so I will need to have a chat with him
about that.

“There are two things – first of all when you are a football
player you are an example and as well you don’t do what damages
your health.

“The fact is that you can damage your health at home, you can
smoke at home and you can drink at home, and nobody sees it, but
when you go out socially you also damage your reputation as an

As well as Zidane, there have been many examples of top
sportsmen who smoked, such as France international Michel Platini,
who is now UEFA president, while Holland legend Johan Cruyff even
regularly lit up on the sidelines when he was

coach at Barcelona.

Wenger, however, accepts in England the culture makes such a
position untenable.

“Yes of course things are different, in England especially,” he

“You don’t need to convince me because I must tell you, I
travelled as a football player on coaches after games in France
where you didn’t see each other, there was so much smoke on the
coach. Everybody smoked, but times have changed, and the healthy
worry, the example, the role models from the football players
request has changed as well.

“I must say as well, English society is very sensitive to
smoking, much more than France, more than and southern (European)
countries, so it is a bit more shocking here than it is somewhere

Wilshere had spoken of his desire to improve his own game after
starting on the bench against Napoli, when club record signing
Mesut Ozil scored his first Arsenal goal and then set up a second
for Olivier Giroud as Arsenal swept the Italians aside with two
goals in the first 15 minutes.

England manager Roy Hodgson has again called the combative
midfielder into his squad for the crucial World Cup qualifiers
against Montenegro and Poland.

Wenger has no doubts Wilshere remains an integral part of hopes
for both club and country this season.

The Arsenal manager continued: “He is a very important player
here, you know. All my plans for the future at the club have always
been built with Jack and around Jack. We had some setbacks with him
– a lot – but he is a very important

player in my squad.”

Arsenal head to The Hawthorns – where a young side came through
a penalty shoot-out in their Capital One Cup tie last week –
without full-back Bacary Sagna, who has a hamstring injury which
will rule the France international out for the best part of a

Wenger is expecting a stern test of his side’s form this
weekend, when Arsenal will be out to record a remarkable 11th
straight win in all competitions against a side on the back of an
impressive shock away win at Manchester United.

“They had quite a strong side out (in the Capital One Cup) and
many of the regular players played, but they have a big squad,”
Wenger said.

“I noticed when I looked at their team who played at Manchester
United, that they have a massive squad of experienced players, so
it’s very difficult to predict who will play against us.”