James Lawton: Wilshere survives brush with danger to put down a marker

Midfielder gets away with rash challenge before his natural talent hints at brighter days for England
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The Independent Online

Before he captured the night, and captivated his audience, Jack Wilshere again showed that sometimes the brightest of football diamonds will never – and perhaps should not – have all their rough edges smoothed away.

However, in the current climate of English football a player of his nature is inevitably obliged to walk a hazardous line.

Indeed, for one alarming moment, the brilliantly precocious Wilshere seemed to be operating on a private agenda designed to heap maximum embarrassment on his devoted mentor Arsène Wenger.

The Arsenal manager, who has been waging such ferocious psychological warfare on rogue tacklers, was obliged to suck in his breath, along with the rest of the stadium, when Wilshere followed up his weekend red card against Birmingham City by flying at Shakhtar Donetsk's Tomas Hubschman.

Hubschman went down like a sheaf of wheat in a Ukrainian harvest but remarkably he got to his feet briskly enough.

This might have helped persuade the Norwegian referee Svein Oddvar Moen to keep his cards in his pocket but it did nothing to take away the expression of intense reflection on the face of Wenger.

The fact is that if the Frenchman has his principles he also has his needs. The one that has been intensifying down recent years is the requirement of Arsenal to deliver something more than endless refinement. This was plainly enough to get the better of last night's opponents – and provide the usual sumptuous level of aesthetic pleasure.

Cesc Fabegras produced his standard quota of sublime passes while returning from injury and Samir Nasri scored a goal of such exquisite skill the Shakhtar defence was reduced to rubble. There were indications of this possibility earlier when the goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov dropped a corner to provide Alex Song with the easiest of chances and was further confirmed when pure panic in the Ukrainian goal area led to the penalty which Fabregas fired home imperiously before making an early departure.

But then when the Champions League moves beyond the ritual chopping down of dead wood, perhaps something more than mere beauty and the acceptance of easy chances will be required.

For Wenger, one of the most crucial tricks may be nursing Wilshere towards a prime which could well produce a perfect balance between a biting physical commitment and arguably the most superior skill and judgment displayed in the latest generation of young English footballers.

Wilshire's goal – Arsenal's fourth – had only one rival in emotion and impact: the strike of the returning Eduardo da Silva long after his starting team-mates had been crushed. Eduardo, though, was coming out of the past, one clouded by pain and a strong belief in this stadium that his career-threatening injury had marked the point where Arsenal failed the challenge of marching on to exploit the first rush of a new team's brilliant possibilities.

What Wilshere represented was entirely different – and perhaps of genuine significance. It was the idea that maybe there is a young English midfielder around who has a genuine ability to play football of both creativity and authentic power.

A touch of recklessness may well have to be curbed but this was a magnificent performance from the young man from Hertfordshire last night.

More than anything, it spoke of a mature instinct, an unerring sense of when to stay – and, most excitingly, when to move on.

For his goal, he did it with compelling confidence. He ran at the Ukrainians with poise and when he exchanged passes with Tomas Rosicky, the sense that he was intent on scoring was overpowering.

It happened quite inevitably and it was the high point of an effort which, apart from that early brush with a fresh disciplinary problem, was never less than composed. This is the mark of the great players. They have time and space and an absolute certainty about what they have to do.

These are, of course, the earliest days for the measuring of a great career and we are, after all, still suffering from the hubris of the "golden generation". Yet, at a most vital time, Jack Wilshere is giving some powerful indications that his talent is as strong as it is natural.

Last night, he was surrounded by the grace notes of a team comfortably in charge of their opponents. The inevitable results were goals and the evidence of easy superiority but then nothing that was produced, not even by Fabregas and Nasri, carried more weight than the work of their young team-mate.

It is maybe not the right time to make too many assumptions about the potential of a young English footballer. There are simply too many traps along the way for the premature announcement – both the highest talent and the most competitive character must be demonstrated. Watching Jack Wilshere, however, is already providing a worrying temptation.

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