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.