It was the tale of two young Gunners. One at the heart of a unit more accurate than for quite some time; the other trying in vain to supply some firepower to an operation he has been asked to lead. If such a thing as crass as bragging rights is allowed at the Emirates, it is fair to say Jack Wilshere will is looking forward to seeing Aaron Ramsey when Arsenal next convene.
They have been pencilled in – "inked" in some quarters – as the midfield partnership to take the north London side through the imminent post-Fabregas era. At 19, Wilshere is a Premier League phenomenon and, just a few months older, Ramsey has the wherewithalto make as much of an impression. Indeed, some say the Welshman would already have done so, but for last year's broken leg. Here was an opportunity to justify the faith.
Ramsey has not managed to. Not yet anyway. Gary Speed, the Wales manager, made him his captain and great feats were predicted. Yet all too inevitably, once the hwyl and hype had subsided, it was Wilshere leaving with his reputation enhanced. Although Fabio Capello saw it rather differently.
"It was a normal performance from him," said the Italian. Not "normal" as in the insult, but "normal" as is the compliment, as in "it is this sort of quality display we expect from Jack". "Incredible" was the adjective Capello used to describe the teenager. And it was so hard to contradict, seeing as Wilshere had not even played an hour of international football beforeyesterday.
"The performance of this player during this season has been incredible," crooned Capello. "I talked to Arsène [Wenger, the Arsenal manager] about him and he said the same – 'incredible'. He is playing like a 28-, 29-year-old with 40 caps. But a good player is already improving." That is a scary proposition.
Wilshere had landed at Cardiff Airport – were England unaware of the bridge and the tunnel? – announcing that Wales reminded him of Gavin and Stacey. In the event, it was his totally flummoxed club pal saying: "What's occurring?" As the ball whirred around him and as his side were so outpaced in an opening half-hour that it seemed as if Wales were stuck in some parallel world of perpetual slow-motion, Ramsey could have been forgiven for wondering what was afoot. It certainly wasn't "lush" whatever it was.
Plenty was said about the merits of appointing a 20-year-old as captain. Yet bizarrely what this shy young man from the Caerphilly mountain could do in the press room in the days before the match, he could not transfer into his more natural habitat. Yes, there were excuses for Ramsey, not least that those around him were palpably at a lower class than he is used to at the Colney training ground. Saying that, Ramsey encountered a similar gulf on his month loan at Cardiff City earlier this year and he managed to stand out throughout that spell. There was no chance of that yesterday. Comparisons are in the habit of being odious, but this was particularly wretched.
While Wilshere showed that by now customary swagger, Ramsey's composure was shattered until the game was gone. It must be queried whether he has ever suffered an opening so torrid, so at odds with his talent. Of course, his labourings would be used to sum up the Welsh mediocrity. That is one of the drawbacks of wearing the armband. The spotlight shines ever brighter, the lens zooms in to highlight the errors. Passes went astray at an alarming and unfamiliar rate. And that was when he found himself in possession.
"Aaron always wants to get on the ball and maybe in the first half he was a bit frustrated," said Speed. "To be fair, England played well and Aaron didn't see the ball as much as he liked. We're not always going to play against teams as good as England so we can hope we can develop. They will all learn from this and from how they came back in the second half."
Ramsey was at the vanguard of the improvement. It was not sufficient to qualify as a fightback, but at least it was something for Speed and his captain to take forward. The next qualifying game is not until September, although as Speed said, the real competitive stuff does not start then. "We're not going to qualify from this group," he said. "But by the next qualifying campaign which starts in 2012 we want to be in place to compete. That's the plan. To go into that with a great chance of qualifying for the World Cup."
By then, it will be interesting to see where Ramsey is in his development. And, of course, Wilshere. To be blunt, yesterday only promised a rich international future for the latter.