The comparisons with Lionel Messi may be over the top for now, but Jack Wilshere’s comeback is complete after his goal helped Arsenal qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
With frustration mounting following a nervous first half, the England midfielder put his side ahead after just four minutes of the re-start.
Lukas Podolski added a quite spectacular second as Arsenal secured their passage, courtesy of Schalke’s win against Olympiacos.
But it was Wilshere’s goal that proved the difference. How vital it was, too.
We seem to take it for granted that English teams will progress beyond the group stages of European competitions but, as champions Manchester City have shown, it really is not that easy.
Arsenal have now done it for 13 years in a row and that is to be applauded — because now Arsene Wenger’s attention can turn to trying to get this talented bunch of individuals to achieve their potential as a team.
‘I think the result (against Spurs) will help to rebuild the belief completely again,’ said Wenger in his programme notes. ‘There is something special in this team and I’m sure it will come out when they play with complete confidence.’
Arsenal only lost two of their remaining 13 games after beating Tottenham 5-2 last season; something Wenger called a ‘doping’ effect.
But the same edginess that characterised the first 20 minutes against Spurs on Saturday — both on the pitch and, to a lesser degree, in the stands — was apparent in the opening half-hour last night. Arsenal are certainly not displaying ‘complete confidence’ just yet.
Wilshere, playing his first Champions League game at the Emirates since March 2011, gave the ball away twice in the first five minutes but he was not the only one culpable, with Podolski and Bacary Sagna both drawing Wenger to the edge of his technical area with wayward passes. Seats were slow to fill up but there were soon audible groans coming from around the stadium.
An unmarked Laurent Koscielny should have scored with a powerful header from a Thomas Vermaelen cross after Montpellier failed to clear a Santi Cazorla short corner.
Montpellier are the reigning French champions but they are bottom of Group B for a reason. This is their debut season in the Champions League; an elite club in which it often takes a few years to feel like you truly belong.
Arsenal, accordingly, enjoyed the vast majority of possession and left back Vermaelen nullified the threat of Remy Cabella rather than Kieran Gibbs, who returned to the bench. But there was still alarm at the way Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was able to thread a ball through the home side’s high back line to feed Anthony Mounier early on, prompting Wojciech Szszesny to sprint off his line and quell the danger.
Arsenal’s finishing, particularly from Podolski, was lacklustre, too, with the German doing little to enhance his prospects of moving in from the left to play as a central striker in the first half.
Podolski sent a right-foot shot wide after a surging run from Montpellier old boy Olivier Giroud and then held off Mathieu Deplagne to flash another effort wide with his left foot after an inviting pass from Cazorla.
With the other game in this group — leaders Schalke at home to Olympiacos — also poised at 0-0 at half-time, there was extra impetus for Arsenal to try to break the deadlock. They wasted little time, with Wilshere putting them ahead soon after the re-start.
The England midfielder started and finished the move, initially finding Vermaelen on the left. The Gunners captain played a one-two with Podolski before cutting on to his right foot and crossing for Giroud to knock down a header into Wilshere’s path.
The 20-year-old finished superbly, dinking the ball over Geoffrey Jourdren with the outside of his left boot to score his first goal for nearly two years, stretching back to a 4-2 win at Aston Villa on November 27, 2010.
Finally, that elusive confidence began to flow, despite a poor clearance from Szczesny falling straight to Cabella just minutes later, and Giroud was again crucial for the home side’s second goal.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was the architect with a surging run towards the penalty area, but it was Giroud who fed Podolski on the left after an exchange of passes between the pair.
The 27-year-old made up for his earlier misses by unleashing a blistering shot which demonstrated brilliant technique, balance and power. Maybe he might not be so bad as a centre forward, after all.