Premier League: Wenger hails Wilshere spark as battling Arsenal stay top

Julian Harris
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ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger praised midfielder Jack Wilshere for bouncing back with an important equaliser at the Hawthorns yesterday, despite being unhappy that the 21-year-old was caught smoking a cigarette last week.

The Gunners maintained their 11-match unbeaten run – and position at the top of the Premier League – thanks to Wilshere’s left-footed volley soon after the hour mark, having gone behind to a Claudio Yacob header shortly before half-time.

“He is an honest guy and when he is wrong he knows it,” Wenger said. “[But] what is more interesting for him and for Arsenal is that he shows the right response on the pitch. He has shown that he has character and kept going until the end.”

The England international, who had been photographed with a lit cigarette while out celebrating Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Napoli last week, endured a difficult opening 45 minutes yesterday, but responded after the break with some key contributions.

“Jack had a difficult first half but has shown that he has character and in the end it was good that he was rewarded,” Wenger said. “He has character and he doesn’t give up and continues to play his game and in the end he got a great goal.”

Despite Wilshere netting his first Premier League goal since November 2010, Wenger does not expect the floodgates to open. “I don’t think he will ever be a goalscorer but he is a player who can create chances for others,” Wenger added. “You need players who score and players who give the ball to those who score. He is more in the second category than the first.”

An evenly-matched game saw few clear-cut chances in the first half, although Kieran Gibbs may have done better on 17 minutes when he burst onto a Mesut Ozil pass inside the box but blazed over from an angle.

A promising break on 35 minutes ended with Olivier Giroud firing from distance at Boaz Myhill, yet West Brom took the lead just seven minutes later.

Arsenal cleared a corner but the ball made its way back to Morgan Amalfitano on the right. The Frenchman, who has been in superb form of late, curled in a cross that found Yacob at the near post and his downward header beat Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal.

Within 10 minutes of the restart the home side had missed two chances to double their lead, both falling to ex-Arsenal forward Nicolas Anelka.

First, a low Saido Berahino cross found Anelka at the far post but the ball became stuck under his feet and was then smothered by Szczesny.

Five minutes later Anelka sprung the offside trap but, having cut in from the left and opened his body, curled the resulting shot wide of the far post.

On 63 minutes Arsenal ensured that West Brom would rue the missed opportunities. A neat passing move down the right ended with Tomas Rosicky flicking the ball up for Wilshere to strike a low volley in via a deflection off Jonas Olsson’s leg.