By Chris Harris at London Colney

You never get a second chance to make a first impression and Samir Nasri wowed Arsène Wenger from the very start.

The French midfielder is a candidate for Footballer of the Year after taking his game to a new level with Arsenal this season. Nasri already has 14 goals to his name - nine more than last term - and has bewitched opponents with his direct running and deft passing.

Still only 23, Nasri looks capable of greatness but Wenger spotted his potential way back in 2004 when he burst onto the scene in France. The Arsenal boss kept tabs on his compatriot before swooping in the summer of 2008.

“I was impressed when he started at Marseille,” recalled Wenger.

“After he had a little dip but I kept him in my mind. I have always pictures in my mind about players who make quite an impression. And you check as much as you can the numbers but the impression is the strongest that I have in my mind.

“When a player plays against me and I see some things, it remains there like it did with Vermaelen [at Ajax] for example, and after I check it out.

“Sometimes I am wrong but I had always a positive impression about Nasri from the start. A player who starts at 17 years old who starts in the first-team and has an impact like Wayne Rooney had, it was a bit similar.”

Nasri was tagged the ‘new Zidane’ after he broke through - partly because of his technical ability, partly because of their shared Algerian background - but Wenger finds it hard to pigeon-hole the Arsenal star.

“The flexibility of his hips is similar to Zidane but Zidane was a different player,” he said. “Zidane was more a guy who creates openings through his skill, Nasri is more direct.

“Cesc Fabregas is a passer of the ball, Nasri is a guy who is more half-winger, a wing midfielder. He has his own style but he is quick and tricky and very flexible.

“And style-wise [you cannot compare him to Rooney] but rather the age when they started in the first team because Marseille, in France, is a big team.”

Nasri is proving to be a manager’s dream on the pitch and according to Wenger he’s just as reliable off it, despite finding stardom at an early age.

“I know Nasri’s father well,” said the manager.

“I have seen the pictures of him starting in Marseille at the age of eight, nine or ten. It is the club of his life. He was always there and I think he has been treated as an upcoming star from early on.

“Sometimes for these players it is not easy because in Marseille and the south of France they worship the players. What I like about him is that he has kept his feet on the ground. He is very humble.

“He is not a player who goes out, he is very discreet.”

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21 Jan 2011