• 'I made the decision to play him without telling him, basically'
• Youngster's passing in the first half was the high point
Arriving here, Jack Wilshere could be seen giving the green-skinned Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus a particularly energetic high five on his way through the players' entrance. If it was tempting to read something into this at the time – Andrey Arshavin, incidentally, enjoyed a protracted hug – Wilshere may well have still been celebrating news of his recall to the first team. The 20-year‑old only found out that he would start against Queens Park Rangers at 10.30am: an oft-delayed return to the Premier League, 17 months on from his last home appearance, announced with the bare minimum of fanfare.
"I made the decision without telling him, basically," Arsène Wenger said after a scrappy and rather fortunate 1-0 home win in which Wilshere completed 67 encouraging minutes before being replaced by Theo Walcott. "When you have not played for such a long time it's not always easy to come back, there is a lot of expectation. Sometimes I think it's better you don't have too much time to think about it."
Wilshere appeared to agree. "I was shocked, to be honest. But it's great to be back, especially with this new team. Last time I played it was with [Cesc] Fábregas and Nasri and now there's [Mikel] Arteta and [Santi] Cazorla so it's like a new team and a new me.
"It's been very tough for me, for any player who's been injured it's tough. Luckily for me I've got my family. I've got my son now who's helped me through it. You question yourself every day are you going to get back to that level? You have up days and you have down days. But the fans have been great, they've been so positive. Even through the darkest times they really helped me."
In the event Wilshere returned in deeply unpromising circumstances: propelled with more hope than expectation into a team that appear, despite this victory, to have lost their creative mojo with the stifling of Cazorla in recent matches. Worse, English football's most preciously coveted young talent is no more than 80-85% fit. This is not the way Arsenal's manager likes to do these things.
"You could see technically he's there, he handled the ball well, he gave absolutely everything," Wenger said. "What is missing now is competition. He's been out for 17 months and what he misses is a bit of the pace and rhythm of the game. But overall, what he did, you could see his class."
If Wenger was careful in his praise of a young player who remains chasteningly central to the ambitions of both Arsenal and England, there was also encouragement to be taken. Wilshere was, if not his old self, then a recognisable facsimile on his comeback. Starting in central midfield alongside Arteta, the neatness of his passing in the first half was among the high points of a stodgy performance. At times he was harried by the Rangers midfield and in the second half there was an unpleasant stamp on that rehabilitated left ankle by Esteban Granero. "The QPR midfield has good players in [Samba] Diakité and Granero, I don't think they wanted to kick him," was Wenger's verdict.
But by the end of his 67 minutes on the pitch, latterly playing in a more advanced position, Wilshere had begun to drive between opponents and succeed at times in quickening his team-mates's passing near goal. He will now have his eyes on renewing his partnership with Arteta next weekend against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
"We have to see how he responds," Wenger said. "When you come back after such a long time out it goes a bit up and down. Medically, he got kicked today and he had no problems and that's the most important thing. The rest will come with games. Will I play him next week? I don't know."
The trip to Old Trafford is the start of a run of seven matches in November that offers an opportunity to reverse the recent momentum of a patchy season. With this in mind, there was further encouragement for Wenger in the successful return of Bacary Sagna, who showed no ill effects on his own comeback after five months out with a broken leg.