Arsene Wenger believes Jack Wilshere has what it takes to follow Theo Walcott into the England team – but called for patience from the Arsenal youngster ahead of what could be a breakthrough season.
Walcott – a controversial omission from the ill-fated World Cup squad – and 18-year-old Wilshere are both expected to feature in the forthcoming European Championship qualifying campaign as Fabio Capello looks to rebuild a squad for the future following the Three Lions’ abject display in South Africa.
Wilshere, already an Under-21 international, started both games against AC Milan and Celtic in the Emirates Cup, producing a man-of-the-match performance against the Bhoys yesterday when Arsenal won 3-2 to secure the trophy in front of their own fans.
Wenger believes Wilshere – who was loaned to Bolton last season – can cut the grade at the very highest level, but urged against expecting too much too soon.
“Theo Walcott was at the World Cup at 17 years of age; he had not played one game in the Premier League, and it didn’t kill him,” said the Gunners boss.
“In 2012, Jack will be 20, so why not? You cannot rule it out, but it is down to performances.
“I believe Jack is stronger than last year, physically, and the few months he played at Bolton has given him something.
“He will be used at the club, of course.”
But Wenger added: “The problems at that age is to be patient; you don’t have patience.
“If you look at the number of good players we have in midfield, nobody can guarantee a position to anybody.”
Another of Arsenal’s youngsters to impress was Emmanuel Frimpong, the Ghanaian-born 18-year-old who has represented England at Under-16 level, having moved to London when he was nine.
“He’s a bit less of a dribbler, but he’s a fighter and a winner,” said Wenger.
“Here you have a boy who can choose between England and Ghana.
“So if I was in your place, I would have no hesitation, and invite him to play very quickly for England.”
Walcott, who looks fresh following an unexpected extended summer break took just three minutes to open up the Celtic defence, crossing for Carlos Vela to knock the ball in at the far post.
“He is highly determined,” said Wenger.
“Theo is sharp physically, he has worked very hard and he is ready to start the season.”
Bacary Sagna and Samir Nasri put the Gunners in command, only for Daryl Murphy and Ki Sung-Yeung to make the scoreline more flattering on the hosts, who saw Georgios Samaras miss a penalty, but clearly had one eye on Wednesday’s crucial Champions League third round qualifier second leg against Braga, which they trail 3-0.
Wenger maintains he has not yet settled on his number one for the opening game of the Barclays Premier League season at Liverpool on August 15, with Manuel Almunia producing a couple of decent stops against Celtic.