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Wenger says he rejected Payet move; spoken to Wilshere about fracas

Dimitri Payet gives West Ham a 2-1 lead in the dying seconds of the first half against Crystal Palace thanks to a brilliant free kick.

Arsene Wenger’s list of players he almost signed is as long as my arm.

Hang on, maybe both of my arms.

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Of course Wenger, 66, has been in charge at Arsenal for almost 20 years, so he’s seen a lot of players, but the Frenchman has been made fun of by fans and journalists on multiple occasions for uttering terms like: “we almost signed him when he was a kid” or “we decided not to move for the player.”

Well, that list of players just grew by one.

Speaking in his press conference on Thursday Wenger was asked about West Ham United’s mercurial playmaker Dimitri Payet, who title-chasing Arsenal face in a London derby on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at Upton Park.

“He was a top talent, always, but had periods of being up and down,” Wenger said. “I’ve looked at him many times. I’ve known him for a long time. He played at Saint-Etienne and we watched him many times. I think he has all the attributes to be a top player, which he is, but he’s 29-years-old already. He’s matured a lot and come back into the national team, which shows he was more consistent.”

Payet has already become a hero at West Ham and has signed a new contract with the Hammers midway through his first season in England.

At the age of 29, he’s no spring chicken but his ability to try outrageous flicks, dictate the tempo of the game from the center of the pitch and bend in audacious free kicks (see the video above) is undisputed.

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Add Payet to a list of Wenger’s “nearly buys” alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Didier Drogba and many more...

Wenger also confirmed he has spoken to Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere -- who has so far missed the entire season after breaking his leg on the eve of the 2015-16 campaign -- about his involvement in an alleged fracas outside a nightclub in London last weekend.

“I spoke to him,” Wenger said. “It looks to have been taken out of proportion a little bit and these are matters we like to keep internal. Our focus is on him coming back. There was no training session the next day. He had an off day and sometimes the players go out. He works very hard and I think he will have a good test tomorrow night [in the Under-21s against Newcastle].”

So Wilshere, 23, is on the comeback trail and even if Arsenal’s fans will be concerned with a mounting number of off-the-field incidents during his relatively young career, Wenger is in no doubt that the central midfielders has a bright future ahead of him.

If he stays fit.

“At the moment I believe he’s a real football brain, Jack Wilshere. He loves football. He’s very serious, very dedicated. The only thing that could stop him from having the career he can make is injuries,” Wenger added.

Follow @JPW_NBCSports