The Welsh wizard and the England international midfielder go head-to-head as Tottenham take on Arsenal at White Hart Lane on Sunday with both clubs in the hunt for the top fourCOMMENT
By Jamie Dunn
Jack Wilshere and Gareth Bale had of course met numerous times before, but became properly acquainted during the first north London derby of the season in November, indulging in a spot of posturing, pushing and shoving in the wake of Emmanuel Adebayor's red card.
Tottenham were a goal to the good at the time, but went on to lose 5-2 at the hands of a merciless home side, who capitalised on their numerical advantage with a relentless attacking display.
Wilshere impressed as he continued his road to full recovery with an energetic 70-minute performance, while Bale managed to notch a goal which, for a short spell, looked to be Spurs' route back into the game but proved to be nothing more than a consolation.
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And Bale and Wilshere will go head-to-head again on Sunday when Arsenal face Tottenham at White Hart Lane - but which club's talismanic figure will make the telling contribution in the battle for Champions League football?
Bale's progression from White Hart Lane jinx to world-class superstar has been wonderful to watch. The Wales international arrived at Tottenham a shaggy-haired 17-year-old left-back whose potential cost Spurs an initial £5 million payment which would later rise to around £7m.
And while it famously took Bale 24 Premier League appearances to capture that winning feeling at Tottenham, his quality and goalscoring prowess were evident as early as his second start for the club against Fulham, during which he beat Antti Niemi after a typically adventurous foray down the left flank, though Spurs were robbed of victory by a late Diomansy Kamara overhead-kick in a 3-3 draw.
Bale was at it again two weeks later, against none other than Arsenal. White Hart Lane erupted as the youngster curled in a delightful free kick – now a familiar sight, even if his technique has changed somewhat - to give Tottenham the lead after just 10 minutes. The Gunners would go on to claim a 3-1 victory, though, thanks in no small part to two goals from a certain Adebayor, and the 'curse' was born.
Bale has of course tasted victory on plenty of occasions since, at times single-handedly dragging Spurs over the line this season. The 23-year-old has scored eight of Tottenham's last 10 goals over a six-game unbeaten run in all competitions, with each unbelievable strike at least as remarkable as the last.
|"I didn't know much about him when I came to the club... He surprised me because he is such a complete footballer"
- Santi Cazorla on Wilshere
Bale's exploits have seen him associated with Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in recent weeks, but if the Spurs star is worthy of such comparisons, Wilshere must not be too far from the world's very best midfield talent.
That the Arsenal midfielder is anywhere near the player he promised to be after a whole season out of action is testament to the 21-year-old's character.
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In a mixed season so far for Arsenal, which sees them attempt to chase down third-placed Tottenham with 11 games to play, Wilshere has been an almost constant source of positivity. The youngster has been the driving force behind the Gunners midfield, at times proving as talismanic as Bale. In a 1-0 FA Cup victory over Swansea, Wilshere not only scored the only goal of the game with a sublime half-volley, but was at the centre of all his side's most productive play.
Even in a convincing 3-1 defeat to a ruthless Bayern Munich side in the Champions League, the England international emerged as one of few plus points for the Gunners, more than matching up to one of the best midfields the competition has to offer, as was the case in a loss at Emirates Stadium to Manchester City.
If Wilshere can now orchestrate an Arsenal victory in their most bitter rivals' own back yard, he will further present his case as an almost certain future Gunners legend and set the tone for the rest of his club's season as they aim for a late surge into the top four – possibly at Tottenham's expense.
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