Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill wary of in-form Jack Wilshere ahead of Arsenal visit
The Gunners travel to Wearside this weekend
Friday 08 February 2013
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill will send his players into battle with Arsenal tomorrow warning them to beware a man in whom he has seen shades of Liam Brady.
Gunners midfielder Jack Wilshere starred in England's 2-1 friendly victory over Brazil in midweek to win rave reviews, and his performance was not lost on the Ulsterman.
Wilshere has gone from strength to strength since emerging from a 14-month injury nightmare, and O'Neill holds him in the highest regard.
He said: "He's come on in leaps and bounds. He's come back from the injury and he's certainly added another dimension to his game.
"He's got that little burst of pace which kind of reminds me of Liam Brady - and if he ends up having the same career as Liam Brady, he will be pretty sensational."
Brady, of course, was responsible for Wilshere's early education in the game in his role as Arsenal's head of youth development, and manager Arsene Wenger will be thrilled if he matches the achievements of the former Republic of Ireland international, who graced the turf at Highbury for seven years before heading for Italy and Juventus.
The Gunners will arrive on Wearside sitting in sixth place in the Barclays Premier League table, four points adrift of arch-rivals Tottenham in fourth, and hoping to repeat their victory at the Stadium of Light last season, which was secured by a late strike by loan signing Thierry Henry.
They returned a week later and lost an FA Cup fifth-round tie 2-0, but O'Neill insists neither game will be relevant this time around.
He said: "They have some really, really talented young players now coming to the fore - Wilshere, the improvement in his game now is there for all to see.
"They are just very, very fine players and will cause us problems."
O'Neill hopes to welcome back defender Carlos Cuellar from a hamstring problem, but is likely to be without Republic of Ireland winger James McClean, who damaged an ankle in his country's 2-0 friendly victory over Poland on Wednesday night.
Club-mate Keiren Westwood did not play in that game after losing his place to Millwall's David Forde with manager Giovanni Trapattoni citing Westwood's lack of club football as the reason for his exclusion, which is likely to continue for next month's World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Austria.
Trapattoni revealed he had told Westwood he may have to leave Sunderland to regain his place, and assistant Marco Tardelli suggested he had tried to do so during last month's transfer window.
However, O'Neill said: "No, he didn't ask to leave. He was asking was there a possibility - certainly his agent was asking about the possibility of going on loan.
"In principle, I don't have a really serious problem about players going out on loan, particularly if they go and play.
"For an outfield player, it might be easier to move things around, but for a goalkeeper...
"The teams who asked for him wanted him not just for the month, but they wanted him for a sizeable time, and of course we have only got one other goalkeeper.
"While it's unfortunate for Keiren at the moment, I think you would admit Simon Mignolet is playing brilliantly for us.
"It was news to me that he wanted to leave on a permanent basis. When the season ends, we can always have a look at things.
"But I also understand Keiren's position. He's a talented goalkeeper and really wants to play in someone's first team."
Meanwhile, O'Neill has confirmed that England Under-21 striker Connor Wickham could be sent out on loan with npower Championship side Sheffield Wednesday leading the chase for the 19-year-old.
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