Arsene Wenger surprised by Jack Wilshere progress

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger admits even he has been taken aback by Jack Wilshere's development, with the England starlet set to return to the Arsenal side for tomorrow night's Champions League Group H clash at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Wenger has brought through many talented youngsters, moulding them into world-class players - such as Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who misses the trip to Ukraine because of a hamstring problem.

The Gunners boss, however, has also long championed the need for patience with Wilshere.

The 18-year-old has grabbed the headlines for some impressive displays - as well as his needless red card against Birmingham - since his return from a productive loan spell at Bolton which saw the combative midfielder yesterday rewarded with a new, long-term deal.

The Arsenal manager, though, admits even he did not envisage things would go so well in a short space of time for the teenager, who won his first full England cap at the start of the season.

"I am very much surprised. I didn't expect that to happen so quickly," Wenger said.

"You have to be open-minded in our job and most of the time when it happens like that you are happy."

Wenger is confident Wilshere - who has now served a three-match domestic ban - can help fill the void left by Fabregas' absence to provide link to an attack which has netted 14 goals in three European games.

"When Fabregas is not there you have to share a little bit the decisive passing, the building up of the game between [Samir] Nasri, [Jack] Wilshere or [Tomas] Rosicky for example, so that is the task we have," said Wenger.

"We have many creative players who can create good passes and that is what I count on.

"Wilshere is not scared to take the ball so he will have a part of it to do."

Wenger deployed Wilshere to great effect in a more advanced role when Arsenal travelled to Partizan Belgrade.

And with Andrey Arshavin and Alex Song both also carrying knocks, the teenager could be asked to do so again.

"If I play with two more defensive midfield players behind him he can play that role," the Arsenal manager reflected, "but if I use Jack deeper and for example Nasri or Rosicky in front of them, he remains in the same position."

Arsenal may be on something of a roll which has seen them march into the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup and very much back into the Barclays Premier League title race, but the Gunners have yet to win in Ukraine.

Shakhtar may have been thumped 5-1 at Emirates Stadium a fortnight ago, but the Minors have yet to lose at their new Donbass Arena home and have won all three games since without conceding a goal.

As well as calling for some "neutral" refereeing from Swiss official Massimo Busacca, Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu has promised his team will deliver a much-improved display tomorrow, something Wenger agrees with.

"I expect Shakhtar Donetsk to have a reaction of course and a response from that heavy defeat," the Arsenal manager said.

"They are a better side than what they have shown at the Emirates. For me they are one of the best European sides.

"On the other hand we have a good opportunity to qualify straight away and finish top of the group and you want to take that chance. "I believe as well we want to confirm that we are stepping up a gear from game to game and that we are capable of being consistent and that is what is at stake for us."

Wenger added: "I will remind the players Shakhtar is a strong side that we perhaps caught on a good day for us at Emirates.

"They will have been hurt by what happened, and at home, they will be a completely different team.

"If you let them get into a flow, they can cause you many problems. We will make sure we are well aware of that."