Compliments don't come much bigger, especially when you are a 16-year-old lad trying to make your way in the professional game but Arsène Wenger yesterday had no hesitation in mentioning Jack Wilshere's name in the same sentence as the words "Liam" and "Brady". And, encouragingly for England fans, the 16-year-old is a product of the club's academy and not poached from foreign shores: he hails from Hertfordshire.
Wilshere scored his first senior goal as part of the youthful Gunners side – with an average age of just 19 – who ripped Sheffield United apart to win 6-0 in the Carling Cup at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night. That after he became the youngest player to represent Arsenal in league football when he came off the bench at Blackburn 11 days ago.
"He is a quiet boy, very determined and focused. For the rest, the talent is there. You have seen that again," added the manager Wenger, who has entrusted the future of the club to Brady – an FA Cup winner in 1979 and now head of the Gunners Academy. "When you are a manager of a boy like that who has the talent, you are always cautious to put too much pressure on him and too high a level of expectation. I believe it is all in there, but also that I have a responsibility to nurture him and get him in the right development over the next two or three years, that will be vital. From 16 to 19 is a very important age for a football player – and Jack has skipped a few classes.
"People tell me he is a bit like Liam Brady, because he has good balance and change of direction. I believe later [in his career] he will be a central midfielder or behind the strikers."
While Wilshere may have to wait to force his way into the starting line-up, the Mexican striker Carlos Vela was so impressive in scoring a hat-trick that his time may be now. "Carlos is a player who has everything in his locker," said Wenger, pleased to finally have the Central American back in the Arsenal fold following a couple of seasons on loan in Spain. "He is agile, has a good first touch and is very calm in front of goal. Also, he is a clinical and quick finisher and I just think he is top class."
At 20, Dane Nicklas Bendtner was one of the more senior men on display on Tuesday night, and he already has plenty of first-team experience in all competitions. His double took his goals tally for the season to four. Bendtner has come through the Arsenal youth system, and had a spell out on loan with Birmingham in the Championship. The big striker feels the Gunners have plenty of strength in reserve. "It shows we have a good young side and good young players with a lot of belief and quality who can go into the big games and play really well," Bendtner said. "The players have shown they are capable of doing what is required of them."
Total international appearances made by Arsenal's starting XI from Tuesday.