I’ve been biting my tongue very hard since joining BR about a particular issue. For two reasons—firstly, I didn’t want to come across as too blinkered in my support for Arsenal (that ship may have already sailed unfortunately).
And secondly, I wanted to be sure. I didn’t want to jump the gun. Plenty of predictors end up with egg on their face, so I thought it best to tread carefully. But I have been shouting this kid's name (off the record) to anyone who would listen since the tail end of last season.
Forget all that, he’s just been given a jersey for the season so I’m gonna shoot my mouth off. Not a number in the high 20’s and 30’s that you see on the backs of other Academy graduates, but Gilberto’s No.19 no less. He is a part of the team now, and you’d better believe he’s good enough. And that's on the record.
Jack Wilshere is the name on every Arsenal fan’s lips at the moment, and it’s easy to see why. His reserve team debut against West Ham was the first I saw of him, and he was hands-down our best player in that game. He was confident, elegant on the ball, has a great eye for a pass, and his top-corner finish was one of the reserve team’s goals of the season.
Wenger said at the time that he may be ready for the step-up into the first team this season, so as expected he took Jack along with a few other reserves on his preseason tour of Austria.
What we didn’t expect was a run of four games, three goals, at least three assists that I can remember. He had a fantastic cameo against Real Madrid no less, and a starting berth against Juve. Make no mistake, his start against Juve was on merit.
An attacking midfielder, Jack is predominantly left-footed, but he looked equally comfortable on either flank during the pre-season tour. He’s Wenger’s dream for the future of Arsenal; an Englishman that plays like a continental.
Because he has been educated by Arsenal, he has two very good feet, great technique, vision and body balance, and a precocious understanding of the game.
But it’s his mentality that has won him Gilberto’s shirt. He played against average, poor, AND top-level opposition this summer. He literally does not care who’s in front of him, and to my memory the last sixteen old with that mentality in the Arsenal squad was a certain Cesc Fabregas.
That’s not to say he’s as good as Cesc was at that age, but he's not far off at all. He certainly looked more comfortable on the ball this summer than some of our squad. He actually outperformed Nasri in my opinion in a couple of the games this pre-season, and although that has more to do with his education within the Arsenal system than him actually being a better player than Nasri (which is not the case, obviously), this also means that half the battle is already won when it comes to his development.
He understands his role, at 16 years of age!
Now at his age I’m not suggesting that he’ll be starting games this year, but if he continues like this he’ll definitely be playing a bigger part than some people think in the next couple of years. The Carling Cup will show us just how good he is in competition.
This type of player is what Wenger had in mind when the Anelka sale funded the Arsenal training facility all those years ago. This is what he’s been trying, time and time again, to explain to the media when faced with lazy journalists relentlessly attacking him for supposedly forgoing English talent in favour of foreign players.
The English players will come when they’re ready. In the meantime there are books to balance and a long-term future to build. We’re almost there.
The first trophy this team wins will be the proof that we have arrived. Wilshere and his youth team-mates are the long-term future of the club, along with the current first team given our ridiculously young average age!
The Arsenal Academy is really coming into its own now. It's is not just due to the development of talent in the players that came up a couple of years ago and are staking their claim now that I am saying this. It will become really apparent in players that were recruited from under-nine level and are almost completely Arsenal-educated, having had the benefit of learning the game through the eyes of the Professor.
He’s already told us that there are at least three players in the youth setup that have nothing more to learn technically, AND the bulk of the youth system is English. Expect more English talent to come through the system. But we have to be patient.
Wenger and Liam Brady have been working on this project for about nine years now, and the seeds are finally beginning to bear fruit. We are now breeding young English players educated to play like continentals. And we have fantastically talented continentals already in the side who continue to improve and are fast becoming some of the best in their positions.
Adebayor (now that he’s staying I’ll reserve comment on the summer he’s had), van Persie, Fabregas, Clichy, Sagna, Toure, Rosicky, Eduardo, Nasri, Gallas—these are top level footballers, yet somehow I’m still reading about how we need experience in the side!
We have the experience now, believe me. In Diaby and Denilson we have two players who are ready to make the step-up this year, just like Flamini did at this time last season.
The sky’s the limit for Jack Wilshere, and he’s not the only one in the academy. In fact, as of today, he's no longer in the academy.
He’s ahead of his time, but the ingredients are there for all to see. He may slow down, he may continue to improve at this stunning rate. We won't know until we see more of him.
But there are more kids within the Arsenal setup that have the ingredients to become top players. And they’re ENGLISH, just like Wenger said they'd be. Arsene knows, you know.