Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere would B good at Barcelona

By Sam Wallace

If Jack Wilshere was wondering whether he had caught the eye of the Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola with his performance in the first leg 20 days ago then he was left in no doubt yesterday, although the praise he earned will not quite have been what he had in mind.

Guardiola reserves judgmentShock return: Injury doubt Robin van Persie (left) |trained yesterday and should be fit for tonight’s clash in the Nou Camp while Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola |admitted last night he was unaware of Jack Wilshere (above) before the start of the seasonBY SAM WALLACE


“Wilshere is a top player and he has been a big, big surprise,” said Guardiola, who was informed yesterday that Arsenal’s injury doubts along with Wilshere — Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie — should be fit for tonight’s encounter.

“I didn't know him at the start of the season. In the first leg he had a really good performance. He can be a great player for Arsenal and England but we have many types of players like him in the second team.

“He's lucky, as Arsenal have time. There is not the pressure to win titles as quickly as possible. We have second-team players like him.”

Ouch. He might have put it with impeccable politeness — and Guardiola spent the next 10 minutes covering his tracks with copious praise for Arsenal — but there was no ignoring the barb.

England's next great midfield hope he might be, but there are plenty just like Wilshere in Barcelona 'B' who spend their days playing in the Segunda Division and waiting for their chance.

On Arsenal's big night — and there is no denying how much this means to Arsene Wenger above all — this was Guardiola's attempt to put their new star player firmly back in his place.

At just 19, Wilshere might have been excellent in the first leg at the Emirates but this was the Barcelona way of saying that it takes more than one big night in Europe to maketh the man.

Tonight, against the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi on their own turf and with the urgency of a one-goal deficit to overturn, will be a formidable task for Wilshere and his team-mates.

Even if they should fail to hold onto that 2-1 lead from the Emirates it would be ridiculous to write off Wilshere. There is still a long way to go but he will have noticed that the stakes get higher with every game.

“All I can say is that I train with Jack every day and he is a special talent,” Cesc Fabregas said. “If there are that many players like him in the world then football has a very good future.”

It was not just Wilshere who found himself the target for Guardiola's asides yesterday. The Barcelona coach, only recently returned from five nights in hospital with a slipped disc, also asked whether or not there was a “special flight” to bring Theo Walcott over at the last minute.

He was referring to the late news that Van Persie is in contention to play which seemed to have unsettled Barcelona.

Wenger has sprung a surprise with Van Persie and for Barcelona, a club that is accustomed to being in control of events, it did not go down well.

They suspect a conspiracy of misinformation and they may well be right.

This is no longer the mutual appreciation society between the two managers it once was. But Wenger recognises that he will have to play every card at his disposal.

After the FA Cup replay against Leyton Orient on Wednesday, Wenger told us that Van Persie, who picked up his injury in the Carling Cup final loss, would be out for four weeks, at least until the end of the international break in two weeks' time. That is some recovery in the last six days.

Providing that Van Persie comes through his fitness test tonight it would be possible to see him as a

late substitute at the very least giving Arsenal the impetus they need when, as at the Emirates, Barcelona started to flag in the closing stages.

“They [Barcelona] are like us, they like to attack and defend high up the pitch so for us it's to get through their first pressing and then I believe we have a chance,” Wenger said.

“The second goal we scored against Barca shows that quite well. The problem we face is to get out of their pressure and to try to hurt them. We can score goals, they can score goals and basically everybody expects both teams to have a go.”

Even for a man with as many years in football as Wenger, the test posed by Barcelona looms large. He talks about them with reverence. And beating them represents such an achievement in his mind that Wenger was in danger of getting carried away yesterday when he said: “Anybody who goes to Barcelona and wins, straight away becomes the favourites of the competition.

“We have to realise it's a special game but in a special game you don't have to be exceptional — you have just to do your job and then you can become exceptional.”

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