Supporters at The Emirates tonight for Arsenal's Carling Cup tie with West Bromwich Albion will enjoy a rare sighting of the lesser-spotted Jack Wilshere. Arsenal's prodigious 17-year-old has been kept hidden away by manager Arsène Wenger since hype and expectation ballooned following the midfielder's eye-catching displays in two pre-season friendlies.
Talk of a possible place in Fabio Capello's World Cup squad has all but disappeared with the young Englishman limited to just 19 minutes in the Champions League qualifier against Celtic, and four minutes against Standard Liege. Tonight, Wilshere will finally get a chance to showcase his undoubted talent in the starting XI as Arsenal entertain Roberto Di Matteo's high-scoring Albion side.
For the past few weeks Wilshere has had to be exceedingly patient, a trait not normally associated with 17-year-old boys. Wilshere is no different. He was understandably frustrated not to feature more heavily after some delightful cameo performances last autumn.
In a recent interview, the teenager admitted he was convinced a year ago he was ready to cement his place in the team. "When I first went into the first team dressing room last summer, I thought I was ready to play for Arsenal then," he said. "But if you look now at how much I've improved, I wasn't really ready back then to play regularly so obviously the boss knows what he is doing. When I look back I realise he was right to use me how he did."
Arsenal's head of youth development, Liam Brady, who has overseen Wilshere's career since the lad was nine years old, said his starlet will be desperate to play as often as he can. But he advised Wilshere to continue to put his faith in Wenger's proven ability to read when a player is ready to step up.
"He will be chomping at the bit to play, knowing Jack. He loves his football. But he is also a very bright lad and he knows he has to be patient," Brady said. "Teenagers are not known for their patience but the manager is well aware of the kid's expectation and his ability. He will be thinking about Jack and how he can use him in the games coming up. With youngsters you have to bring them along. If you throw them in too early, it can knock them back. The manager is very experienced.
"He has seen it before with Nicolas Anelka, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott. He has a very good track record in bringing young players through. He is a good judge of when players are ready to go in at the deep end."
Wenger's record is indeed unquestionable, but it varies from player to player. He threw Fabregas into the side when he was just 17, giving him 46 games in the 2004-05 season. Wenger was more cautious with Walcott, easing him gently into the side.
To outside eyes Wilshere would appear to have taken everything about being a professional footballer in his stride remarkably well. He was even photographed on Sunday propping up a bar with a drink in his hand. Thankfully, the bar was a new milkshake joint in Finchley.
Brady has no concern about Wilshere's ability to handle the inevitable attention that will follow his appearances in the first team, particularly in a season leading up to a World Cup finals.
Brady, however, believes a summer in South Africa is almost certainly a step too far for his young protégé. "I think outsider is very much the right description when it comes to the World Cup. Only appearances in the first team will dictate that," the former Arsenal midfielder said. "The thing about Jack is that every time he has been involved in the first team he has shown his ability."
Wilshere will be joined in tonight's Arsenal team by the club's prodigal son Philippe Senderos, who has returned after a year on loan at Milan, and 18-year-old wing prospect Sanchez Watt.