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Arsenal's Jack Wilshere has a natural air of authority for No10 role

Amid the pervading doom that settled over Arsenal on the day the summertime sale of Robin van Persie to Manchester United was sanctioned, not a great deal was made of the fact that Van Persie's shirt number was re-allocated to a player who represented a very significant chink of light. Jack Wilshere was still churning his way though a seemingly interminable rehabilitation when Arsène Wenger passed on the mantle of the No10.

It would be another two months before he would even taste first-team football. But to the Arsenal manager, it was a symbolic gesture, something to say: I believe in you. I will wait for as long as it takes for you to play again. I trust you to be the key to the team. "By giving Jack the No10 I want to show I am confident he will be the one who will lead the team one day," Wenger explained. That day came quicker than expected.

Although Wilshere spent most of his years in Arsenal's academy thriving as a playmaker who bristled with energy, this week's FA Cup match against Swansea was the first time he was deployed in his most natural position for the first team. The way he directed the game, with an infectious desire to drive his team on, and the deftness of touch to make the difference, certainly gives Wenger food for thought about the shape of his side.

Santi Cazorla, who has been the regular central cog this season, is just as comfortable playing wider. And for all Cazorla's delicacy of touch, Wilshere is a different type of No10. He is gutsy. Bloody minded. Determined to shake up a game. "I like to pick the ball up and run at players and drive the team on," he enthuses.

It was put to Wilshere that something about his style was reminiscent of Steven Gerrard. The 21-year-old welcomed the comparison. "He is a great role model for me," says Wilshere. "He has been the heartbeat of Liverpool for years. He has also been the stand-out performer for England as well. If I can get anywhere near as good as him and drive the team forward like he does then I will be happy. He was someone I looked up to when I was younger. He has 100 caps for England. For any young midfielder he is someone to base your game on and try to be like.

"I think I'm a bit different. His long passing is better than mine. I'm not where I want to be yet. I just want to work hard on my right foot, on my long passing, things like that and just get better and better."

There is one area where Wilshere has made great strides already. In his younger days he was notoriously hot headed. Arsenal's head of youth development, Liam Brady, remembers how easily Wilshere could be riled.

"As a footballer he was one of those players that needed very little coaching. He was a natural," says Brady. "All you had to create was an environment where the kid was going to be happy. He was always great with his team-mates and academy staff. The one thing he had to learn was to keep his temper. He's very competitive, really wants to win. He had his problems in his teens. In academy football if a player makes too many fouls or retaliates he could be sin-binned. Jack at 13 and 14 was regularly in the bin."

The penny dropped when Wilshere was starring at an international youth tournament near Verona. "We were playing Juventus in the semi-final and Jack was having a great tournament," Brady recalls. "He'd played brilliantly in all the matches up to then. I warned him that the Italians would try to upset him and target him with cynical fouls. After 10 minutes he got red-carded for retaliation. I didn't need to say anything to him. He missed the final. I think the lesson was learned.

"We all knew that Jack had talent in abundance but the one thing I am delighted with [is] his maturity and temperament on the field nowadays. I can almost sense the other players are looking to Jack now. He is accepting that responsibility. I have no doubt in future he will be an Arsenal captain and every chance an England captain."

It is not easy to reconcile the enthusiasm people have for Wilshere's development with the understandable need for caution, especially in a country that is not currently blessed with a production line of exceptional talent. On the same night, after watching that dominant, matching-winning performance against Swansea, Gordon Strachan suggested he had the qualities to play for Barcelona, whereas Michael Laudrup insisted it was too early to lavish too much praise.

At the centre of it all is Wilshere himself. That 17 months out of the game, at an age when he was desperate to play, forced him to grow up. "I've got a great family around me who keep me grounded," he adds. "I don't see myself different to anyone else."

Away from the game, perhaps not. But on the pitch, for both Arsenal and England, he is different. As far as Wenger, and Roy Hodgson are concerned, long may that continue.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Amy Lawrence, for The Guardian on Thursday 17th January 2013 23.00 Europe/London

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image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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