Jack Wilshere ready to shine for Arsenal and England
Wilshere has started seven of Arsenal's nine matches this season
By David Ornstein
Arsene Wenger has spent 14 years as Arsenal manager attempting to develop an English player who encapsulates his vision of the perfect footballer - and in Jack Wilshere he may finally have achieved his aim.
Control, skill, vision, speed and strength. An ability to read the game, beat a man, find the killer pass and drop back to defend. Fearless, mature, dedicated and hungry.
Just some of the qualities possessed by the greatest modern-day midfielders - and attributes that could eventually enable Wilshere to join the same bracket.
The fact that he is English ought to delight those who accuse Wenger of operating in a manner detrimental to the national team by disregarding local talent in favour of foreign imports.
"You've got to be of a very high technical standard to reach Arsene's first team, regardless of your nationality,"
who has been Arsenal's head of youth development since Wenger took over in 1996, told BBC Sport. "We've had plenty of English lads who have hit the crossbar but that's not good enough.
"How many English players have broken through at the other leading Premier League clubs in the last 10 years? The bar has been raised by the foreign players and it's extremely difficult to reach that level.
"Jack Wilshere is different to most other English boys. He is highly technical - and that should be the target. Arsenal have a regime which is all about technique and that helps the likes of Jack come through. Perhaps if other English clubs thought similarly we would have more technical players.
"We have an abundance of strong, forceful, determined and aggressive players, but technical ones? No. It's countries like Spain and the Netherlands who are producing those."
Although Wilshere is only 18 years of age, he has started seven of Arsenal's nine games in all competitions this season, presenting Wenger with a selection dilemma ahead of Sunday's trip to Chelsea.
If the Frenchman's first-choice midfield five of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Alexandre Song, Abou Diaby, and Andrey Arshavin are all fit, will one of them miss out to accommodate an in-form Wilshere?
The teenager has certainly pressed his case of late, with exceptional performances against
suggesting he is ready for arguably the biggest test of Arsenal's season against the champions at Stamford Bridge.
"Jack is a very gifted player with so much natural ability," said Bolton manager Owen Coyle, who took Wilshere on loan last season. "Allied to that, he has a really good temperament and a burning desire to be an Arsenal player.
JACK THE LAD
January 1992: Born in Stevenage
October 2001: Joins Arsenal from Luton
2007: Named captain of Arsenal Under-16s
2007: Makes England Under-17 debut
February 2008: Makes reserve-team debut
September 2008: Becomes Arsenal's youngest league player
September 2008: Scores on first Arsenal start
January 2009: Signs first professional contract
May 2009: Helps Under-18s to League and FA Cup double
January 2010: Joins Bolton on loan
August 2010: Wins first full England cap
August 2010: Makes first Premier League start
"He drives with the ball, commits defenders and that can give you a four-versus-three or five-versus-four four scenario, which results in goals. He is the type of player who can make the difference between you winning and losing games.
"You could see that in the way he set up Arsenal's opening goal against Partizan Belgrade. If Lionel Messi had executed that piece of skill, everybody would have be raving about it. This season he's ready, he's starting to move through the gears. It's great news for Arsenal and England, less so for their opponents."
Opponents have been struggling to contain Wilshere ever since he was introduced to football by father Andy and older siblings Tom and Rosie in the back garden of their old home in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.
He represented Letchworth under-eights as a six-year-old in 1998 and became so well known for his ability at
Whitehill Junior School
that teachers remember the "almost Beckham-esque" interest among fellow pupils and opposing teams.
Wilshere was known to cry with frustration if his team-mates were unable to match his standards but that became less of an issue once Arsenal came calling.
Spotted by a Gunners scout while playing for Luton in 2001, the boyhood West Ham fan was initially reluctant to switch clubs because it would mean a longer journey for his parents. He had also made many friends at Luton.
A nine-year-old Wilshere waited until the final day of the registration window before committing to Arsenal but he was swiftly integrated into the club's
Hale End Academy
- and he never looked back.
"Everyone connected with those very young age groups felt Jack was exceptionally gifted," said Brady, Arsenal's academy director and a former midfielder to whom many have likened Wilshere.
On his first day of training my captain Kevin Davies was very physical with him, but Jack didn't complain and got on with it and wasn't intimidated
Bolton manager Owen Coyle
"He had instant control, a good football brain, a lovely left foot and he could beat people. Even from those early days he showed tremendous determination to make it. He always turned up early for training and matches. He was always 'up for it'.
"We've had a few good players at the academy and David Bentley is one who springs to mind. He was also exceptionally skilful. But Jack had a style of his own and, aside from skill, he was hugely dedicated. From what I've seen over the years, that is such a vital ingredient.
"We always had high hopes for him but we really started to get excited once he hit 13 or 14."
Wilshere continued to play for his secondary school -
in Hitchin - until joining Arsenal permanently as a 15-year-old in 2007 and completing his studies alongside the likes of Henri Lansbury, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Sanchez Watt and Emmanuel Frimpong.
He was playing at least a year above his age group for club and country but continued to outshine his peers, making his reserve-team debut for Arsenal shortly after turning 16 in 2008 and becoming the club's
youngest league player
later that year.
Brady describes Wilshere as quiet, humble and "the model student" but his development was not without its glitches.
"We did have a few problems with him over his temper," reveals the former Republic of Ireland international. "For a couple of seasons, it was an issue we had to work hard to iron out. If he was on the receiving end of a foul, he would often react and try to take retribution in the next tackle.
"He was struggling to get the better of that situation but now he appears to have it under control. It made me chuckle watching some of the tackles he got hit with at Tottenham and Partizan. For a split second I thought 'oh no' but he kept calm and his reaction was wonderful."
As a nimble 5ft 7ins attacker, Wilshere has had to get used to some harsh treatment.
"He doesn't have natural height but he can tackle and take a knock," stated Coyle. "On his first day of training, my captain Kevin Davies was very physical with him but Jack didn't complain and got on with it and wasn't intimidated.
"We knew he was destined for the top because he showed he could deal with that type of thing. He wants to learn, he was prepared to stay after training and regularly asked the coaches how he could improve on aspects such as his finishing."
The public gained their first real glimpse of Wilshere in the 2008 Carling Cup games against
at the Emirates Stadium.
He earned rave reviews but Wenger urged caution, insisting the period from 16-19 was the most crucial in a player's development, and used him sparingly before another fine display against
in the same competition a year later.
Wilshere made 14 appearances during a productive loan spell at Bolton
Many Arsenal supporters view Wilshere as the natural successor to Fabregas but eyebrows were raised when, a few weeks after making his full England debut last summer,
Wilshere was arrested
in connection with "a fracas" outside a nightclub.
Those closest to the player rubbished the incident, pointing out that Wilshere is teetotal and has no track record of stepping out of line. Coyle commended his behaviour at Bolton and spoke proudly of his decision to visit the squad at their London hotel before
August's victory over West Ham
"He hadn't forgotten the people who had helped him on his journey," said the Trotters boss.
That journey started the day he was born on New Year's day 1992, the same day George Graham's "boring, boring" Arsenal were held to a turgid 1-1 draw by Wimbledon and in the same year that England finished bottom of their
group and started their fateful
1994 World Cup qualifying
Arsenal and England will hope Wilshere's emergence signals the start of a fruitful period in their history.
"Jack has shown everyone that if you're good enough then you're old enough to make it at the very highest level," added Brady. "I expect him to be an England international who goes on to play scores of games for his country and to be a leader of an Arsenal team that wins many trophies.
"Injuries allowing, he is going to be at the top end of the football spectrum for a long time. We're in for a good future watching Jack Wilshere. He's going to be a huge player for Arsenal and England over the next 10 years and hopefully beyond."
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