Wonderful Wilshere the one ray of light for stuttering Arsenal
The huge roar that greeted Jack Wilshere’s first appearance at the Emirates Stadium in 17 months told the story.
The story of supporters desperate for something to cheer for after a miserable week in which they had seen their side lose twice and clashed with the board during a hostile AGM.
The story of one of the most talented players in a generation whose career had been threatened by serious injury while still in its formative stages.
And while the best part of 60,000 fans will return home feeling underwhelmed and frustrated with another unconvincing performance from Arsene Wenger’s side, Wilshere’s comeback will provide cause for optimism, more so even than the three points.
Wilshere, without even a substitute appearance to his name since May 2011 following a series of ankle problems, lasted for 67 minutes in the 1-0 victory over QPR before being replaced by Theo Walcott.
That he was the best player on the pitch could be interpreted as a reminder of the 20-year-old’s quality or a damning indictment of the players he now calls team-mates.
After all, when Wilshere last donned the Arsenal shirt he was surronded by the likes of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Samir Nasri, all of whom have now moved on.
Here, Arsenal stuttered to victory against 10-man QPR as Mikel Arteta turned the ball home virtually on the goalline six minutes from time to move the Gunners up to fourth spot. It was nervous, listless and faltering - and beyond the result, Wilshere`s comeback was the only real positive to be taken from the afternoon.
While it will take Wilshere time to fully get to grips with the pace of the Premier League, his ‘dream team’ combination with Santi Cazorla showed promise and his technical skill shone through as he injected ideas and energy into Arsenal attacks.
He has been absent for so long that many in north London might have been forgiven for forgetting the level of his quality and the extent of his influence over games.
Wenger certainly hasn’t - and the Arsenal manager admitted his heart skipped a beat or two when Wilshere went down holding his ankle after being kicked by QPR midfielder Samba Diakite.
But Wilshere looked physically sharp, lean and mean from the outset as he drifted past challenges with his familiar gait, always looking to link play with neat one-twos and incisive passes to team-mates.
His use of the ball was metronomic and accurate, keeping the Gunners ticking along as he completed 44 out of 47 attempted passes.
Almost his first involvement in the game was to overlap on the left past Lukas Podolski before fizzing a delivery across the six-yard box that evaded both the QPR defenders and the Arsenal attackers.
As Arsenal struggled to break down QPR’s stubborn defence, he again took responsibility in midfield in the first-half, combining with Cazorla before forcing Rangers’ goalkeeper Julio Cesar into action with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area.
One of the most pleasing aspects from Wenger’s point of view will be the way Wilshere committed to tackles without fear of injury, fully committed to competing for the ball.
The England international said after the game that he could barely stop smiling during his appearance - he was just pleased to be back after so long out, after so many setbacks and false dawns over the last year.
With Arsenal rudderless and lacking direction in the previous two games - defeats to Norwich and Schalke - Wilshere’s return came just at the right time, and his performance hit the right note.
If Wilshere can stay fit and build on this display, he may well ensure that Arsenal fans still have plenty to cheer this season.