Hamouma is St Etienne’s hero

Jack Wilshere believes he is progressing with every appearance,

but the Arsenal midfielder feels it will be Christmas before he is

‘back to his best’.

The England international returned from 17 months on the

sidelines due to ankle and knee injuries when making his comeback

against Queens Park Rangers at the end of October.

He has made a further four appearances for the Gunners and

agrees with his manager Arsene Wenger that it will be another month

before he is at his optimum level again.

“I had never been injured, so how long it will take for me to

come back is hard [to say], but I feel good,” Wilshere told Arsenal

Player.

“On Wednesday night [against Montpellier] we started the game

off sloppily, and I was one of those who kept giving the ball away.

That’s tough when you come back and start badly in a game. But

we’ve got great players here and they keep you going.

“Percentage-wise, I’m probably 80 to 85. I’m feeling better and

better with every game and I think I heard the boss say at

Christmas you’ll see me back to my best. I think that’s probably a

reasonable timescale.”

The 20-year-old is also grateful to Wenger for showing his faith

by starting him in the recent high-profile games against Manchester

United and Tottenham Hotspur.

He added: “It doesn’t get any tougher than that – Man United

away and then Tottenham at home – but they’re the games that I want

to be involved in.

“That’s the Premier League. You’re not going to have an easy

game in the Premier League, even if you play the so-called lesser

teams. They’re never easy. The Premier League is known for its

intensity and that’s the same throughout all the teams.

“The quality might get a bit better and the games might get a

bit tougher and you get a few more nerves but the boss showed faith

in me. I needed games under my belt and he gave me them, so I’m

thankful for that.”

Both sides had the chance to move to the top of the standings,

level on points with Lyon, with a win on Friday night, but it was

the hosts who prevailed as they extended their unbeaten run to nine

matches.

They dominated throughout at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and

deservedly sealed all three points when Hamouma netted after

Valenciennes had failed to clear their lines in the 73rd

minute.

The two teams have been the surprise challengers this season,

although St Etienne midfielder Renaud Cohade was not willing to

rest on his laurels against a team who had lost just once in their

last seven matches before tonight.

But any hopes of a clash to savour were dashed in a first half

of relatively few clear-cut chances.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang volleyed wide of the target from just

outside the area, while at the other end Valenciennes midfielder

Mathieu Dossevi evaded the challenges of several home defenders and

burst into the area, although he lost his footing at a crucial

point and could only direct a tame shot at Stephane Ruffier.

Dossevi then brilliantly tracked back to stop Max Gradel from

latching on to Francois Clerc’s cross, while Aubameyang was denied

from a narrow angle by Valenciennes goalkeeper Nicolas

Penneteau.

St Etienne, perhaps sensing an opportunity at home, upped the

ante in the second half, with Aubameyang once again thumping over

before forcing Penneteau to make two fine saves.

But there was nothing the Valenciennes keeper could do when

Hamouma netted following a goalmouth scramble 17 minutes before the

end, with the midfielder firing home after a flick-on from

Cohade.

They managed to hang on to their lead to ensure they top the

table for the next 24 hours at least.