Mikel Arteta's late winner ended bottom-club Queens Park Rangers' resistance as Arsenal finished a turbulent week with a vital victory.
The winner came moments after QPR's Stephane Mbia was sent off for kicking out at Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen.
QPR's Esteban Granero and Jamie Mackie spurned good injury-time chances.
England midfielder Wilshere played 67 minutes as he made his first senior Arsenal appearance for 17 months.
It has been a tough week for Arsene Wenger after his side's surprise defeats by Premier League strugglers Norwich and Champions League visitors Schalke were followed by a spiky annual shareholders' meeting, where fans questioned the club's ambitions.
But Arteta's winner, which came after Hoops keeper Julio Cesar magnificently saved Olivier Giroud's header at the start of a goalmouth scramble, moves Arsenal into fourth in the Premier League table.
It was harsh on Brazilian Cesar who produced several superb saves to keep out the Gunners as the crowd grew increasingly restless inside the Emirates.
Ultimately the game turned on the sending-off of Rangers defender Mbia, who was shown a red card by referee Anthony Taylor when he senselessly kicked out at Vermaelen while lying on the ground having already won a free-kick.
The defeat leaves QPR still searching for their first league win of the season and bottom of the table.
But manager Mark Hughes can take huge positives from a compact defensive display that only unravelled after Mbia's dismissal.
In their next three matches, Hughes's team face Reading, Stoke and Southampton - all teams in the bottom half - and will take heart from their brave display.
Even after they were reduced to 10 men and fell a goal behind, the visitors refused to give up and perhaps should have had an equaliser through either Granero or Mackie.
Former Real Madrid midfielder Granero skewed wide after he was put clean through, before Mackie powered through a parting Arsenal defence only to prod his shot straight at Vito Mannone.
Wilshere's return aside, pre-match attention was focused on QPR substitute Anton Ferdinand's decision to wear a T-shirt in support of anti-racism group Kick It Out during the warm-up.
Ferdinand - found by the FA to have been racially abused by John Terry - had chosen not to wear one last weekend and, in a joint statement released with brother Rio, has urged the organisation to do more to stamp racism out of football.
The Gunners' man in the spotlight was Wilshere and, after his first touch was greeted with huge cheers, he looked the likeliest player to unlock QPR with his neat touches and inventive play.
Aaron Ramsey's free header looped on to the Hoops crossbar, before Wilshere's stinging 20-yard shot was spilled by Cesar.
However, QPR continued to pose a threat on the counter attack, particularly down the flanks where they sought to expose the space left by the Gunners' attacking full-backs Sagna and Andre Santos.
Brazil international Santos endured a testing night against Schalke and his perceived vulnerability was targeted by pacy QPR pair Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jose Bosingwa.
Bosingwa failed to pick out the waiting Bobby Zamora as Vermaelen came to the rescue, while Wright-Phillips spooned a cross wide from another promising position.
Arsenal's frustrations were typified by Santi Cazorla wastefully smashing an inviting half-volley over the QPR bar before Arteta clinched a vital win.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger:
"It was a good game overall. We played against a QPR side which has quality.
"We played quite well but lacked a little bit of the confidence you miss when you have lost two games. We had chances before the sending-off but it made it easier [for us] and more difficult for Rangers.
"A draw would have been a big disappointment, but if we had lost today it would have been a crisis."
QPR manager Mark Hughes:
"I've come with teams on many occasions to the Emirates and that was as comfortable a game at the Emirates as I've been involved in.
"We were in total control, never under real pressure and they only created one chance when Cazorla ballooned the ball over the bar.
"We were making substitutions with a view to win the game because that was the extent of the control we thought we had. But the sending-off put us on the back foot, although even then I thought our response was magnificent and we had chances to win the game."