Arsenal 1 QPR 0
Jack is back. Arsenal? Not just yet. They stopped the rot, they gained the win, they return to the top four, but this was far from convincing, far too reliant on a dodgy decision for an offside goal - and a brainless act by the Queens Park Rangers defender Stephane Mbia, who was rightly dismissed for ludicrously aiming a swipe of his leg at Thomas Vermaelen by the touchline.
QPR's manager, Mark Hughes, must wonder how many ladders he has wandered under in recent weeks; Jack Wilshere probably feels the same for the past year and a half in which he has been dogged by injury after injury.
It said more, though, about the paucity of Arsenal's recent performances than the precocity of the brilliant 20 year-old, on his return to action after last playing a first-team game in June 2011 for England, that he was head and shoulders his team's best player.
"It was amazing to be back - words cannot describe it," he said. "I was just running around smiling. Last time I played it was with [Cesc] Fabregas and [Samir] Nasri - now it's with [Mikel] Arteta and [Santi] Cazorla who are great players, too. It's like a new team and I'm like a new player."
Arsene Wenger only told Wilshere he was playing on the morning of the game - and admitted that such was the
fragile state of his team, after soulless defeats to Norwich City and Schalke, that they needed
the boost to their "jaded confidence" that the midfielder's return would bring.
"He's been out for 17 months and what he misses a bit is the pace of the game," Wenger said. "But what he did was class."
It was. And yet Wilshere was not on the field, having been substituted, when Arteta scored although, more significantly, neither was Mbia. The Cameroonian centre-half sprinted to the touchline after the red card was shown to him by referee Anthony Taylor - having initially protested his innocence - and he should have still been running last night from an angry Hughes.
Instead, Hughes turned his ire on Taylor and the other officials and their granting of Arteta's goal - which came after QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar had saved superbly from Olivier Giroud's powerful header. Arteta stepped back from an offside position to head against the bar and then poke the ball into the net.
"Arteta is offside twice, to be honest," Hughes said. "He's offside on the initial header which Julio saves and in the melee he comes back from an offside position and scores. How the referee did not see that, I don't know. He came up with some explanation of Ryan Nelsen leaving the field of play. How that plays everyone onside, I've no idea."
The furious protests had continued down the tunnel with Hughes also unhappy that, to his mind, Vermaelen "made the most" of Mbia's stupidity. Nevertheless the goal came from precisely the patch of pitch that the strapping defender would have been patrolling. It was also QPR's ninth red card in 2012 - equalling a Premier League record - but Hughes bridled at any suggestion of indiscipline. "It was a red card. It could have been avoided," he said.
"You're getting sacked in the morning," the Arsenal supporters gleefully chorused to Hughes and although that is certainly untrue there is only so much bad luck that QPR can stomach. Vital games against Reading, Stoke City and Southampton beckon.
"We have a run of games now coming up from which hopefully we will get maximum points," Hughes said defiantly. "In terms of performances, we're building.
I know at some point this will turn around."
Club owner and chairman Tony Fernandes was at the Emirates Stadium, where Anton Ferdinand wore the Kick It Out T-shirt during the warm-up, and remains unstinting in his support of Hughes. He will digest the match and probably conclude, yet again, that defeat was due to misfortune more than anything else - but he will also look at the league table with three points from nine games.
Arsenal will point to a string of astonishing stops by Cesar in the QPR goal - but there were also, at the death, some astonishingly close calls for the visitors. For Arsenal, Aaron Ramsey's snapshot was finger-tipped away by Cesar after the Brazilian goalkeeper had reacted sharply to turn the ball out after Nelsen's clearance had cannoned goalwards of Nedum Onuoha. Cesar also pushed out Cazorla's shot - which came soon after the Spaniard had ballooned over the bar from 12 yards.
But QPR will point to a shot by Esteban Granero, clear on goal, which slid wide, from Adel Taarabt's lofted pass, and a free kick from the Spaniard which struck the frame of the goal before, incredibly, substitute Jamie Mackie somehow barrelled his way through three challenges only to blast a point-blank shot that rebounded off Vito Mannone.
All those efforts - bar Cazorla's ballooner - came after Mbia was dismissed. Arsenal had struck the crossbar in the first half - when Ramsey looped a header over Cesar and the goalkeeper had saved smartly from Giroud - but the longer the contest went on the less it appeared that Arsenal would break through.
If, in a sense, the use of Wilshere - before the watching Ray Lewington, an assistant to England manager Roy Hodgson - was inspired, and he will not be risked in the League Cup tie away to Reading on Tuesday, it also encouraged the restless home fans to be more supportive.
"It shows you how confidence can go in a team," Wenger later said of his side's nervy display. Hughes will have ruefully agreed.
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Arsenal 1 QPR 0
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