When Jack Wilshere first joined up with the senior England squad for the friendly against Hungary last month there were a few players who were struck by his confidence. He did not behave like an 18-year-old who was just glad to be there; he looked like an 18-year-old who thought this was exactly where he belonged.
It is a sign of the times that there is a greater certainty that Wilshere will be an England regular one day than a regular in Arsenal's first team, although the smart money says that he will do both. There has been a buzz about the boy from Hitchin in Hertfordshire since he was only 14, so much so that his gradual emergence into the Gunners side this season at such a young age has not seemed like a surprise.
Like Joe Cole, Wilshere is an English boy of whom great things have been expected from a young age. Today at Sunderland, with the furore over Arsène Wenger's claims that Arsenal are victimised by less talented teams, the pressure will be on. These are the kind of games they have lost in the past – indeed, they went down 1-0 at the Stadium of Light last season – and if they do it will take the wind out of a great start to the season.
Wilshere is not guaranteed a start but he is entitled to one having played a key role in the 6-0 win over Braga on Wednesday night. After that game he talked about the benefits of playing alongside Cesc Fabregas, the player whom he is evidently being groomed to succeed when, barring a miracle for Arsenal, Fabregas goes back to his former club Barcelona one day.
Wilshere is not the type to come over wide-eyed when it comes to famous footballers but he was fulsome in his praise of Fabregas. "For me, in the position he plays, he is the best player in the world," he said of the Arsenal captain. "That shows with all the interest from the clubs who want him and people talking about him. That is what I want to be like – he is the perfect player to learn from.
"The way he makes space, it is easy to find him, the way he helps you through the game. He is always talking to you – he is a good leader as well as a good player. I think he looks at the fact we both started young in the first team as well and sees he did the same as me. Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps, to be as good as him would be nice.
"Playing alongside him is an experience that a player of 33 may not have had in his whole career. So at 18 it is a bonus and to play with people like Cesc and Alex [Song] makes it easy for you. Watching Cesc when he was younger and I was younger – it was the perfect opportunity to learn from him."
Wilshere made his senior debut two years ago aged 16 and 256 days, only 79 days older than when Fabregas played his first game for the club in 2003. An English equivalent of Fabregas would be pretty much the ideal gift for the current England manager. Fabio Capello dropped Wilshere from his second squad this season for the two recent Euro 2012 qualifiers but it would be feasible for Wilshere to be a fixture in the team in two years' time.
Owen Coyle, currently one of Wenger's chief antagonists, took Wilshere on loan at Bolton Wanderers last season where he played 14 games. It would be an easy assumption to make that Wilshere struggled outside the rarefied atmosphere of Arsenal but he did well. "I think I had to go out on loan last year because there are world-class players at Arsenal and I had to get some games," Wilshere said. "I came back more experienced and stronger and if you play regularly it obviously makes it easier for you."
Wilshere was arrested last month in relation to an alleged assault which took place outside the west London building that is home to The Independent and the Daily Mail – and in full view of the newspapers' CCTV cameras, thus ensuring maximum coverage. As mistakes go, the fact he has not been charged suggests it was not a big one but it will be interesting to see, having had this lesson, whether it is his last or the first of many.
Confidence is no bad thing in a young player and to be fair to him he did say that he had to "pinch" himself when he sat in a Wembley dressing room with Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. It has been noted in the football fraternity that he has changed agent already, a tendency that has not always been synonymous with stability in players.
These are early days yet for young Wilshere. He said that Fabregas had told him that he needed to be patient. "He [Fabregas] tells me I am not going to play every week, like he did, and that I have got to break through slowly then hopefully get in," Wilshere said. That sounds like good advice. Wilshere could have it all. Just as long as he is prepared to take his time.
* Jack Wilshere became Arsenal's youngest debutant against Blackburn Rovers in September 2008 at the age of 16 years and 256 days and also the club's youngest Champions League player (16 yrs, 329 days) against Dynamo Kiev two months later.
* He scored his first goal 10 days later against Sheffield United in the League Cup, and spent four months on loan at Bolton last season, scoring once.
Club record: Games; Goals; Assists
08-09 Arsenal: 8 1 1
09-10 Ars/Bolton: 21 1 1
10-11 Arsenal: 5 0 2
The midfielder made his full England debut against Hungary last month, having won six caps for the Under-21 side.Reuse content