It only takes a minute to win a football match.
Arsenal scored twice inside 60 seconds to win this game, and Jack Wilshere was at the heart of it. The England midfielder notched Arsenal’s opener and followed it up by creating the crucial second goal. This was the sort of match-winning display we’ve become more accustomed to seeing from Wilshere’s Welsh team-mate Aaron Ramsey.
In the early part of the season, Ramsey’s displays understandably overshadowed Wilshere's. The Wales international’s brilliant form pushed Wilshere out onto the wings and, occasionally, even the substitutes bench.
Wilshere’s game suffered as a consequence. He has many qualities, but he’s no winger.
However, the thigh strain Ramsey picked up against West Ham on Boxing Day has presented Wilshere with precisely what he was waiting for: an opportunity to establish himself in the centre of the Arsenal midfield.
Wilshere has started each of Arsenal’s last four games in the middle of the park. The transformation has been dramatic. A run in his favoured position is bringing the best out of the young midfielder. Wilshere was the driving force in Arsenal’s victory over Cardiff on New Year’s Day, but he managed to top even that display with his decisive performance at Villa Park.
His goal was the consequence of an intelligent sprint in to the final third of the field to meet a Nacho Monreal cutback. Having timed his run perfectly, Wilshere then executed two exquisite touches: The first to bring the ball into his stride, the second to stroke it beyond Brad Guzan and into the corner of the net.
That was Wilshere’s fifth goal of the season. That’s already his best scoring tally in any campaign, and it’s still only January. Prior to this season, Wilshere had just five senior Arsenal goals to his name. He’s doubled his career total in the space of five months.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger offered his thoughts on the match and Wilshere, via the Guardian's Daniel Taylor:
Wenger felt #AFC "too cautious" at 2-0. "We lost the desire to score more." Lots of praise for Wilshere - "he's got his change of pace back"— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) January 13, 2014
Goals were a massive part of Wilshere’s game as an academy player. He first caught the attention of many Arsenal fans after completing the remarkable feat of bagging a hat-trick from midfield in a U-16 game. Now, it seems he is following Ramsey in converting that goalscoring potential into tangible results.
Having given his side the lead, an ordinary player would have allowed himself a couple of minutes to wallow in the glory. However, Wilshere is anything but ordinary. Straight from kick-off, he won the ball back and played a perfect clipped pass into the path of Olivier Giroud. Giroud brought the ball under control and battered it into the far corner. In 59 seconds, Arsenal had seized control of the match.
Arsenal’s winning position was almost too comfortable. In the second half, the Gunners became sloppy. After Santi Cazorla conceded possession inside his own half, Christian Benteke was able to nod Aston Villa back into contention.
However, this is a steelier Arsenal side than the ones we’ve seen in recent years. With Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in commanding form at the heart of the defence, Arsenal were able to see out the victory and return to the summit of the table.
Arsenal have gone back to the top of the league. On the evidence of this display, Jack Wilshere is approaching the top of his game.