x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Arsenal can breathe easy as Wilshere shows why he's England's future midfielder

Wilshere is enjoying a sensational breakthrough season at the north London club, carrying the good form after taking to the international stage with consummate ease.

Arsenal's midfielder Jack Wilshere, right, may be the midfielder England and Arsenal are looking for after Cesc Fabregas.
Arsenal's midfielder Jack Wilshere, right, may be the midfielder England and Arsenal are looking for after Cesc Fabregas.

LONDON // Arsenal and England say they are ready to build their teams around Jack Wilshere, and the gifted teenage midfielder showed just why with a stunning individual display against Barcelona.

Up against the formidable midfield trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets - the heartbeat of Spain's 2010 World Cup-winning side - Wilshere demonstrated he has the character to match his undoubted talent by leading Arsenal's fightback in its 2-1 victory in the first leg of the Champions League last-16.

"He was outstanding," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "He wasn't fazed by the occasion. In difficult periods when we were under pressure, he wanted the ball and kept the ball. He played really well."

Wilshere is enjoying a sensational breakthrough season at the north London club, marking it with his first start for England in last Wednesday's 2-1 win over Denmark in Copenhagen.

Playing firstly as a holding midfielder before moving further upfield in the second half at the Parken Stadium, he took to international football with consummate ease. He had no problem transferring that form to the Emirates Stadium a week on.

"It's been a great couple of weeks - the best of my life," Wilshere said after his coming-of-age display against the Spanish champions.

Wilshere is a rarity in English football in that he is a midfielder who looks comfortable on the ball, whenever it is given to him. The recent failure of England's national team can be seen as stemming from its inability to keep possession against the major sides in big tournaments, but that could change with Wilshere as the commander in the engine room.

He is even outshining Cesc Fabregas, for so long Arsenal's totem in midfield, at the moment. Should Fabregas end up moving to Barcelona this summer, as many are predicting, Gunners fans may no longer mourn his departure with the likes of Wilshere and emerging France playmaker Samir Nasri ready to replace him.

Wilshere, who spent half of last season on loan at Premier League team Bolton in a bid to pick up some valuable topflight experience, was part of an Arsenal midfield that was blown away against Barcelona.

"There was a spell in the first half where for about 20 minutes we didn't touch the ball. But we knew they were going to do that," he said.

With Alex Song picking up an early booking - for a foul on Lionel Messi - that limited his effectiveness as Arsenal's ball-winning anchorman, that onus fell on Wilshere. But the 19-year-old prodigy did so much more.

Often seen running rings around Xavi, the world's leading midfielder over the past few years, Wilshere almost single-handedly brought Arsenal back from the dead. Of the many counterattacks he instigated in the second half, the last one, in the 83rd minute, resulted in Andrey Arshavin's winner.

"I watched these (Barcelona) players in the World Cup and they were the best team there, so I knew a bit about them before the game. But once you get into a game, you get used to them," Wilshere said.

"We had to go up a level in the second half and we passed it around better. We had to carry on playing the Arsenal way and we did that."

The second leg in the Camp Nou on March 8 will be another special experience for Wilshere, whose ability at such an age was compared by England manager Fabio Capello last week to that of football greats Raul, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.

"We have got something to hold onto," Wilshere said. "Last year, it was 2-2 (after the first leg of Arsenal's quarterfinal against Barcelona). This year it's 2-1 and we have a chance. If we get a goal over there, we will see what happens."