LJUBLJANA, June 16- With a pair of stand-out performances in England’s final two fixtures of the 2014-15 season, Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere may have belatedly come of age as an international footballer.
The 23-year-old was perhaps the only visiting player to emerge with any credit from England’s 0-0 friendly draw with Ireland in Dublin and in Ljubljana on Sunday, he broke his international duck with a stunning double that inspired Roy Hodgson’s men to a 3-2 win over Slovenia.
Wilshere has been deployed as the deepest midfielder during England’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign to date, either in a 4-3-3 formation or at the base of a midfield diamond, but Hodgson says that should not preclude him from exerting an influence in the final third.
“There is no reason why he cannot score more goals,” Hodgson told reporters at Stozice Stadion. “With the quality of his shooting here, it shows that.
“We will be encouraging it, that’s for sure, because we don’t want him playing behind players, we want him playing level with them.
“We don’t want to hold him back in front of the back four, we want to push him forward and he will get into those areas 30 yards from goal and make those little chips and slide balls, and shoot from distance.
“He seems to enjoy it and I enjoyed his performance.”
In August it will be five years since Wilshere made his England debut, aged 18, as a late replacement for Steven Gerrard in a friendly against Hungary, but with injuries having limited his involvement, it has taken him time to find his voice as an international footballer.
It took him 26 caps to register his first assist — a raking, 40-yard pass that was headed in by his Arsenal team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during November’s 3-1 friendly win over Scotland in Glasgow — and his goals in the qualifier against Slovenia came at the 28th time of asking.
He is not prolific with Arsenal either, having scored only 12 goals in 153 first-team appearances, but when he does find the net, it tends to be in memorable fashion.
– ‘Need to score more’ –
He has won the BBC’s Goal of the Season award for the past two years — for finishing off an intricate team move against Norwich City in 2013-14 and for a sumptuous half-volley against West Bromwich Albion on the final day of last season.
His brace against Slovenia was in the same vein, with both goals sweet, left-foot strikes that flashed into the top-left corner, the second after a thrilling move involving Jordan Henderson, Andros Townsend and Adam Lallana.
Former captain Gary Lineker said it was one of the best 10 goals ever scored by England, but Wilshere knows that where goal-scoring is concerned, quantity is more important than quality.
“It’s obviously nice to get my first goals for England. They have been a long time coming,” said Wilshere, who spent five months on the sidelines in mid-season with an ankle ligament problem.
“I probably wouldn’t have had a shot for the second one if I hadn’t already scored, but after I’d scored one, I had more confidence.
“I have said that I need to score more goals. It is something I need to add to my game. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes have done that for England.”
With Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, Francis Coquelin, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini also vying for places in Arsenal’s midfield, Wilshere is no longer guaranteed a spot in manager Arsene Wenger’s starting XI.
But Hodgson believes that his most recent England displays show that he deserves to play a pivotal role for both country and club.
“If we can bottle up what Jack has been doing in these games against Ireland and today (Sunday), that would do me nicely,” he said.
“Hopefully it will attract his manager’s attention and hopefully Arsene will give him a few more games as well.”