Thursday, July 31, 2008

He's alright, Jack

The presence of school books and protractor sets around Arsenal's London Colney training ground is unlikely to raise eyebrows among observers who know Arsene Wenger's predilection for green talent, but as the Premiership season rumbles ever closer, there's a new boy in class at the Gunners Academy for Precocious Performers - and he looks like a doozy.

I usually try and keep Arsenal chat off this blog, as partisan posting can be an ill-judged thing, but the playground tyke in question just looks too good to avoid commenting on. Jack Wilshere, a 16-year-old of particularly cherubic aspect, dinged in his third goal in two pre-season friendlies last night - against former Arsenal custodian Jens Lehmann, no less - having already notched his first two senior goals at the start of the week. In taking down a Gael Clichy cross on the right side of the box, steadying himself, and then striking a low shot with his left foot past Lehmann in the Stuttgart goal, Wilshere showed both his ability and confidence. And that's not the only example.

In a reserve team match against West Ham in April, Wilshere created one goal with a Bergkamp-like inside pass, before curling a left foot effort into the top corner from 25 yards - an effort worthy of Thierry Henry. If that seems praise too high, judge for yourself. The English lad, a rare commodity at Arsenal, has been the subject of discussion on some of the blogs for a few months, and Wenger is doubtless aware of his promise. For now, though, the manager is prepared to play a cool hand.

Talk of Arsenal's youngsters can be tiresome, and it seems clear that the side needs some experienced heads if they are going to end the longest trophy drought of the Wenger era. But, after becoming accustomed to the likes of Fabregas and Clichy, Denilson and Bendtner breaking into the first team in spite of their tender years, it's nice to be talking about some truly home-grown prospects. Alongside Wilshere, there's the much-touted Henri Lansbury, who made his first team debut in last season's league cup, and Luke Freeman, signed from Gillingham in the January transfer window, currently the youngest player to have ever appeared in the FA Cup.

And then, of course, there's Theo. Not an Arsenal success story yet, but slow-burning his way towards greatness, maybe. Last season I craved a moment of Walcott genius after he had flickered sporadically - and then came Anfield, that run... and a Ryan Babel-shaped shadow to obscure it all.

Consistency and game-time will be crucial for the newly-anointed No14 this year; but for Wilshere, a low key introduction surely beckons. In any case, for now: believe the hype.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Napier rising for T20 finals day

Well folks, it's time for the summer hit'n'giggle bonanza, three 20-over thrashes, with untold riches the reward for the victor. Obviously I'll be 'woop-wooping' for the Eagles when they kick-off today's Twenty20 finals, and hoping they can overcome the reigning champions Kent in the first match. Although the last time I saw the two sides play, at Beckenham a month ago, we were treated to an absolute spanking...

Anyway, on the subject, and with particular reference to Graham Napier, I've managed to inveigle some more Essex propaganda onto a respected website, namely the Wisden Cricketer. So, if an account of Napier's fall and rise tickles your pickle, then follow the hyperlink road.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Beautiful game mugged by opportunistic credit crunch gag

Read all about it, read all about it! Well, go on then.

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