As Arsenal prepare for Saturday’s trip to Sunderland, manager Arsene Wenger has joined in the fulsome praise of midfielder Jack Wilshere. The 21-year-old was the star of the show in England’s victory against Brazil on Wednesday, leading to the British media going into overdrive in their hyping of the young talent.
Wenger was careful not to get carried away with comparisons to Paul Gascoigne, but said that Wilshere had exceeded his expectations upon his return from over a year out with an ankle injury.
“I’m happy that he’s continued to improve his performances and has such a big influence in the England team—that’s fantastic,” Wenger said, according to Arsenal’s official Web site. "[His progress] is much quicker than I expected.
“I always thought that in February he would be back to his best. He was in front of my expectations, because since December his performances have taken off and in every game he’s becoming more influential.”
Wilshere is sure to be crucial to Arsenal’s hopes of getting a Champions League place at the end of the season. Last Saturday’s narrow win over Stoke keeps the Gunners four points behind rivals Tottenham in the race for a top-four spot.
Wenger has plenty of defensive problems ahead of the clash with Sunderland. With Thomas Vermaelen already ruled out with an ankle injury, Laurent Koscielny is set to face a late examination on a calf problem.
Their opponents, Sunderland, appeared to have taken themselves clear of any relegation danger with a good spell of form, but, having taken just one point from their last two matches, Martin O’Neil will want results to improve to prevent anxious looks over their shoulder.
Winger James McClean may miss the visit of Arsenal after injuring his ankle on international duty with the Republic of Ireland. Carlos Cuellar looks likely to return from a hamstring problem.
D: Gardner, O’Shea, Cuellar, Colback
M: Larsson, N’Diaye, Vaughan, Johnson
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal
M: Wilshere, Arteta
Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski
Prediction: Arsenal’s away form has not been overly impressive of late and they could struggle against a Sunderland side that had been fairly strong defensively at the Stadium of Light. As with last week’s victory over Stoke, it may not be particularly pretty, but Arsenal should have just enough quality to get a narrow victory.
Sunderland 0-1 Arsenal
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League clash will kick-off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Soccer Plus, with a live stream available via a free trial on Fox Soccer 2Go.