It began so simply.
When Jonny Howson swung in a ball from the right, Mathieu Flamini did what he has done so effectively ever since returning to the Arsenal team. With a minimum of fuss, he intercepted the ball and passed it to one of his many more gifted team-mates.
That man, as we all now know, was Jack Wilshere.
Arsene Wenger recently said he views Wilshere’s best position as a deep-lying midfielder rather than a number 10. In this glorious move, we saw why. Although ostensibly playing as a right-winger, Wilshere collected the ball in a central position just yards outside his own penalty area.
Almost instantly, Wilshere was confronted by the bruising figure of Leroy Fer. Wilshere drops a shoulder, hurdles over Fer’s arboresque right leg, and sprints in to space.
Suddenly, Norwich have three players caught upfield, and Arsenal are on the break.
Wilshere raises his head, his periscopic vision scanning first right then left. Mesut Ozil is free just a few yards away, but Wilshere instead opts to lay the ball in to the path of the overlapping Kieran Gibbs. And then keep going.
As Gibbs crosses the halfway line, Wilshere continued to race upfield, leaving Howson in his wake. Seeking to continue the moves rapid vertical velocity, Gibbs plays the ball down the line in to the path of Santi Cazorla.
It’s at that point that the move dramatically shifts gear. A promising counter-attack transitions to a penetrative assault, as Cazorla puts his head down and drives infield. Outside him, Gibbs continues his dash towards the byline, simultaneously opening up space in the centre.
Cazorla glances to his right, and lays the ball, left-footed, in to the feet of Jack Wilshere, now some thirty yards from goal.
Faced by the imposing frame of Alex Tettey, Wilshere instantly controls the ball with the outside of his left boot before nudging it back to the Spaniard. And he keeps going.
Cazorla already knows what he will do with the ball when it returns. The moment he gave it to Wilshere, he looked up to identify the position of Olivier Giroud. As the ball comes back to him, he instantly turns it on to the French forward, positioned with his back to goal on the edge of the Norwich area.
On the half-turn, Giroud can see Wilshere out of the corner of his eye, darting towards goal. Rather than slow the move by bringing the ball in to his body, he flicks it with his outstep towards Wilshere.
It’s arguably the only slight inaccuracy in this almost-perfect move. Giroud slightly misjudged Wilshere’s trajectory, and the ball floats behind the Englishman. However, Wilshere is able to recover with a stunning piece of improvisation, using his heel to retrieve the ball from behind him and knock it back to Giroud. What Wilshere does is not just good football – it’s a circus trick. And he keeps going.
Giroud does not need to look to know where Wilshere will be. There is no imperfection in his next pass. Stabbing his left foot towards the ground, he allows the ball to roll up off his boot and float impishly to his team-mate’s path. It’s audacious and beautiful, bisecting four Norwich defenders perfectly. Tettey, who has dutifully tracked Wilshere’s pitch-length run, is disorientated and drained. Red-and-white synapses crackle as Arsenal’s pin-ball plays out to perfection. Hours of training ground practice, small-sided games and exacting ball-control drills collide in a moment of sheer magnificence.
The ball arrives on Wilshere’s right foot, and he places a perfect volley in to the far corner. No power is needed. The finish, like the rest of the move, is all guile and grace. When he sees the ball hit the net, he allows himself a roar of exhalation.
He knows it’s special. The Arsenal fans do too, reacting with an upwardly-inflected combination of awe and disbelief. And he keeps going, jogging towards the fans before sliding on his knees in celebration.
Wilshere finally rests. 20.34 seconds, five players, nine passes, and 28 touches have come together to create one masterpiece.
There’s surely no greater tribute to Arsene Wenger’s 17 year reign at Arsenal than this one extraordinary goal.
Further reading: Match report | Highlights | “Arsenal’s Magical Midfield Tortures Norwich” – BR Football