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Arsenal duo battle for spotlight

One of the great things about international breaks is that fans are offered the chance to see players usually used to plying their trade together at their clubs suddenly pitched into opposition for their countries.

On Saturday, Arsenal fans will enjoy the sight of England's Jack Wilshere being given his full home debut for the senior side against Wales in their Euro 2012 qualifier, but they may take greater satisfaction from seeing club team-mate Aaron Ramsey lining up opposite him.

Returning to the international fold for the first time since November 2009 after breaking his leg against Stoke, Ramsey has had a long road back to fitness, but his absence has certainly played a role in Wilshere's development.

Before Ryan Shawcross' tackle put Ramsey out of action in February of last year, the Welshman was ahead of Wilshere in the Arsenal pecking order and had started four out of five games before being rested for the big clashes against Chelsea and Manchester United. Wilshere started just two games for the Gunners in 2009-10, both in the Carling Cup, before being farmed out on loan to Bolton in January to gain more experience in the Premier League, but took his chance with both hands at the start of the next season.

Such is Wilshere's talent that it would be churlish to suggest that, upon his return to the Emirates, he would not have made an impact. But it poses an interesting question over whether he would have made the same giant strides he has done this season if Ramsey had been fit enough to provide him with competition.

Listening to Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger speak about the pair, there are obvious similarities. Passion, desire and Wenger's watchword 'belief' are in no short supply, but is it their mentality as "students of the game" that impresses the Frenchman the most.

"What they have in common, when they are on the pitch, is personality to say: 'I'm not scared to play. I'm here to play the game'," Wenger said. It is the same qualities that persuaded the Frenchman to hand Cesc Fabregas his debut at the age of 16 and, while there may be a gap in technique - a subject for a whole other debate - that saw Fabregas develop earlier, the mental side of the game that Wenger deems so important in a young player is obvious in both.

Cardiff boss Dave Jones sold Ramsey to Arsenal in 2008 for around £5 million and, after helping him return to full fitness with a month's loan spell back at the club in February, he claims that his mental strength is one of his major assets.

"The difference in his strength and his maturity - both on and off the pitch - was amazing," he said. "It really was a case of someone leaving as a boy and coming back as a man ... He is so strong mentally, and he certainly hasn't been holding anything back.''

Wilshere, too, has been heralded for his maturity, with his performance in the Champions League first leg against Barcelona hailed as an incredible feat given the quality of opposition, most notably World Player of the Year nominees Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

The most vocal champion of the 19-year-old has been England boss Fabio Capello, who claimed last week that "he has arrived". Putting Wilshere alongside the likes of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Raul, Capello also paid tribute to his leadership abilities and added: "For personality and confidence on the pitch, he is the best young midfielder I have seen for his age."

Having initially considered him a defensive midfielder in the mould of Frenchman Claude Makelele, Capello has opened his eyes to the attacking potential of the youngster after the Denmark game and will pay close attention to that of Ramsey as well, despite the fact that he has often played in the holding role for Wales.

Wenger has always maintained that both players are all-rounders, able to play in 'any position across the midfield'. Combining attack and defence, getting from box-to-box quickly and having the positional sense to start and end counter-attacks, both have the potential to make Wenger's vision for the future a reality - what he would term the 'complete player'.

The obvious comparisons have been made: Ramsey to fellow countryman Ryan Giggs, in terms of maturity and skill at a similar age, and Wilshere to Arsenal great Liam Brady for his playing style and England striker Wayne Rooney for his belief and positive attitude.

But the player that both may most have to emulate in the near future is club team-mate and captain Fabregas. While the Spaniard is viewed as a more offensive player, both Ramsey and Wilshere could be his eventual successor. Arsenal have two exceptionally talented young players at their disposal and, should Fabregas return to Barcelona in the near future, it is easy to see Wenger giving them the chance to fill the void, as opposed to spending anything on bringing in a replacement.

Saturday's clash will give them their first chance to square off against each other in a game that could have ramifications far beyond the qualification for Euro 2012.


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