Arsène Wenger has claimed that Jack Wilshere has become a marked man but you probably will not hear him say it too many more times.
The Arsenal manager railed – with justification – against the treatment dished out to his central midfielder in his team's 1-0 win at Sunderland on Saturday. Wilshere limped off in the 50th minute after another foul, by Alfred N'Diaye, and Wenger was asked if he thought the player was already being targeted by opposition teams.
"Yes," he said. "But I don't want to talk too much about that as I don't want to transform the player to a paranoia attitude. Just be natural and play your game and it is down to the referees to protect him when it is needed."
Quite rightly, Wenger feels Wilshere is under enough pressure already. But that has not stopped him and others making starry comparisons. On Saturday, Wenger name-checked Lionel Messi. Paul Gascoigne and Gareth Bale have also been mentioned in comparison with someone who has played 52 Premier League games.
On Saturday night, Alan Shearer, a former England captain, increased expectations further after Wilshere's showing against Brazil last week. "He has everything about his game a midfielder should have," the pundit said. "He'll be the next England captain."
Wilshere's injury at Sunderland, which was not expected to sideline him for long, came at the end of a week in which it was difficult to stay grounded after showing so much of the artillery of a modern central midfielder.
Wilshere has demonstrated balance, vision, movement, a great range of passing and the ability to hurt teams. That last attribute assured he suffered himself, harangued to the borders of legality whenever he sought to make an impact in a game that was so much richer – and more one-sided – when he was in it. Wilshere was the architect of the game-winning goal, finding Theo Walcott after a driving run, who in turn teed up Santi Cazorla to strike after 35 minutes. Carl Jenkinson was dismissed in the second half for a second yellow card. Walcott struck a post. Both goalkeepers made good saves. Steven Fletcher and Cazorla missed good chances.
Martin O'Neill rejected any suggestion his team had targeted Wilshere. "No, I disagree with that," he said. "There was no foul on Jack Wilshere [in the first half when he was challenged by Titus Bramble]. Bramble has come in and that can happen in the game."
Arsenal's Andre Santos, meanwhile, travelled back to Brazil yesterday to finalise a loan move to Gremio until the end of the season.