Wilshere gives Arsenal sense of optimism


Arsenal 1 QPR 0:THESE ARE strange times at Arsenal, a club apparently embroiled in as close to an ideological debate as Premier League football is likely to get. Last week a familiarly fraught club AGM again raised that apparently irresolvable question: is this currently a successful club or not? The debate in its simplified form comes down to pots or profit: 15 years in the Champions League versus seven years without actually being champions of anything at all.

With this in mind it seemed fitting that a 1-0 home defeat of Queens Park Rangers, courtesy of Mikel Arteta’s scrambled 84th-minute goal, should leave Arsene Wenger’s team briefly in fourth place in the league.

This was a vital three points at the end a trying week for the home team, just as it was a horribly frustrating afternoon for Mark Hughes, whose Rangers team held their own until Stephane Mbia’s senseless sending-off after 79 minutes and who remains convinced Arteta was offside at least once in the move that brought the game’s only goal. If there was further encouragement to be drawn both on and off the field for Arsenal it came, naturally enough, in the form of Jack Wilshere who was a joy to watch at times. His best moments in the first half were the way he manipulated the ball and made simple passing look simple.

“It was amazing to be back – words cannot describe it. I was running around smiling,” Wilshere said. “The last time I played it was with [Cesc] Fabregas, [Samir] Nasri and now there is Arteta and [Santi] Cazorla, so it’s like playing in a new team.”

On the evidence of the second half Wilshere’s return may also be good news for some of those around him. With Cazorla again very tightly marked, Wilshere’s thrust in the second half, when he played in a more advanced position, provided another kind of threat, forcing some desperate interventions as Rangers defended deep. The Spaniard’s creative burden will be further lessened by the imminent return of Oxlade-Chamberlain.

For Rangers there was little more than the consolation of a committed and well-drilled performance, undermined by Mbia’s red card, to add to the nine red cards received last season. “We do not have a discipline problem. We are not an aggressive team,” Hughes said, and in fact Rangers controlled the midfield at times and had as many chances as Arsenal in the second half.

This is an expensively acquired bottom-placed team with some outstanding players: Esteban Granero, Armand Traore, Julio Cesar and Adel Taarabt all might have improved the opposition XI on the day. Hughes has had plenty of support during a spell of almost six months without a league win. The next three matches – against Reading and Southampton at home and Stoke away – look pivotal.

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