Have Arsenal unearthed the new Gazza?

Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere

Before midfielder Jack Wilshere made his first senior appearance for Arsenal, he was being talked of as the future of English football. His breathtaking transformation into a first team regular has seemed to confirm that grandiose statement. For many he is the most naturally talented English player since Paul Gascoigne. His ascendancy has even shocked Arsene Wenger who said, “I didn’t expect him to be as involved as he has been this season, but you can never predict.” Countless comparisons will be made but the 18-year old argues that his learning curve has been aided by watching and playing alongside Cesc Fagregas. Should their talismanic captain leave the club at some juncture, fears for the future will be assuaged by the constantly improving Wilshere.

Having played for Arsenal’s local rivals Gascoigne was arguably England’s most gifted footballer for a generation. He rose to international prominence at the 1990 World Cup and after taking Spurs to the 1991 FA Cup final he moved to Lazio. He was plagued by injuries and controversies in Rome but still became a cult hero of the Curva Nord. Those controversies routinely threatened his playing career and restricted the application of his undoubted genius. Wilshere had a minor indiscretion of his own last month after being arrested following a fracas in Kensington High Street. This prompted Stuart Pearce to claim the youngster had, “taken his eye off the ball.” However the consensus is that Wilshere has a maturity beyond his meagre years.

A loan spell at Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers for the second half of last season undoubtedly helped in this regard. He became Arsenal’s youngest ever player when he made his first team debut against Blackburn back in 2008 but the decision to allow Wilshere to gain experience in Lancashire was perspicacious. Under the Scottish manager, who is renowned for practicing fluid football, the starlet was granted senior playing time and was therefore able to achieve a rhythm hitherto unattainable. He scored his first league goal in their 2-1 away victory at Upton Park. Whilst at the Reebok Stadium, the qualities which had seen him prosper for Arsenal’s youth and reserve teams were confirmed. Although diminutive he displayed strength and passion combined with vision and skill on the ball.

These ball playing characteristics would suggest a forward midfield role where he could pull the creative strings. Yet for a player who always appears to have his head up, being intimately aware of his surroundings he has adapted to a more defensive, stifling role with Alexander Song this season. Rumours of another loan move were rampant in the transfer window but Wilshere stayed at the Emirates and has been involved in all of their games this season. Not phased by the physical side of the game and comfortable in possession, however congested the midfield, he manages to find space by dribbling away from opponents with a rapid turn of pace. In Arsenal’s 6-0 thrashing of Braga last week, the spoils belonged to captain Fabregas who scored twice. Wilshere has said of him, “That is what I want to be like – he is the perfect player to learn from, and to play with.” His playing mentor is still the chief orchestrator but the young Englishman thrived in this Champions League encounter. It was arguably his best game in an Arsenal shirt, combining fantastically with Marouane Chamakh before the Moroccan lashed the ball into the bottom corner.

Performances such as these warrant extravagant comparisons with Gazza and possibly even Paul Scholes and Fabregas. The predominantly left footed midfielder made his England debut as a substitute last month against Hungary but has since played for the Under-21s. Arsenal once stressed the need to nurture his precocious talent but now the stabilisers are clearly off. The sooner Fabio Capello realises this, the better for England.

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