Jack Wilshere did not expect to be a fixture in the Arsenal first team by the end of 2010 - but he knew he could take his chance if it came.

The 18-year-old returned to Emirates Stadium in the summer after a valuable loan spell at Bolton during the second half of last season. Older, wiser, stronger and as skilful as ever, Wilshere shone in pre-season and started Arsenal's first game of the new campaign at Liverpool.

A three-game ban notwithstanding, the teenager has barely been out of the starting line-up ever since having racked up 22 appearances and two goals. Wilshere does not lack confidence but even he is mildly shocked by his meteoric rise.

"I guess it’s a bit of a surprise that it’s all come about so quickly,” he told the Official Arsenal Magazine. “I’m 18 and playing regularly for the first-team, which I know is quite something.

"But I was always naturally confident I could step up – it was a matter of time, I thought, and I knew I just needed to keep improving and working at my game.

"Even if things come naturally, you have to do that first of all. The boss has shown faith in me over the past few months and I’ve demonstrated that I can keep my head at this level."

Wilshere has always had technical ability but you need strength to withstand the rigours of the Premier League. “After the first four or five games this season I was perhaps feeling it a bit,” he admits. “But as the games go on you get stronger and stronger.

"I’m probably feeling as fit as I ever have, to tell you the truth. Last year at Bolton helped, but I wasn’t used to playing regularly at the top level for Arsenal so knew I had to accustom myself to it this time around. I think I’ve coped pretty well so far.

“All in all, I don’t think it was too massive a step up this season – I think that step came when I went to Bolton having previously been in the reserves. Of course this is a top team so you’re playing at another level in that respect, but I knew what I was coming into.”

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29 Dec 2010