Arsenal ended their long goal drought as they finally broke Queens Park Rangers’ impressive resistance with a goal six minutes from the end to claim the three points at the Emirates.
In a match marked by the much-anticipated return of Jack Wilshere to the starting lineup, Arsenal were lackluster for much of the contest before a late burst of impetus resulted in a goal from Mikel Arteta after Rangers had been reduced to 10 men following Stephane Mbia’s sending off. The less than convincing nature of the victory was compounded by the fact that Arteta appeared to be offside in the buildup to netting the scrappy winner.
The lack of assuredness in the Gunners team was present throughout and, even after taking the lead, QPR had chances to grab an unlikely equalizer.
However, with Arsene Wenger staring at a third consecutive match without his side troubling the score sheet, the Arsenal boss is unlikely to be too concerned at the arduous nature of the victory.
After a positive beginning, with the crowd cheering Wilshere’s early involvement after 14 months on the sidelines, the pace of the match sank to pedestrian levels. It was a tempo that played right into the visitors’ hands.
It was an eventful and mixed day for QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar that started with a good reaction save after Andre Santos’ low cross had been deflected toward his goal at the near post.
The Brazilian was left unmoved, though, as another returning Gunner, Bacary Sagna, whipped in a fine cross and Aaron Ramsey produced a looping header that came off the top of the cross bar.
Despite his long absence, Wilshere, along with Santi Cazorla, was Arsenal’s standout player before tiring after the break. The midfielder showed plenty of confidence too as he exchanged passes with Cazorla and burst to the edge of the area and firing a shot that was spilled by Julio Cesar before he grabbed at the second attempt.
QPR were doing a good job of keeping things tight but produced little attacking endeavors of their own. On a rare foray upfield, a neat passing combination got Jose Bosingwa in behind down the right but the former Chelsea full back picked the wrong option with two men to aim at in the box and Arsenal cleared.
At the other end, Julio Cesar again proved to be a less than secure presence as he spilled a low shot across goal from Olivier Giroud.
After the break, QPR’s summer signing from Inter showed more of the ability that at one time made him one of the world’s leading goalkeepers. Am Arteta free kick found the head of Per Mertesacker but took a deflection on the way through to goal and required Julio Cesar to make a good save diving low to his right.
With the reality of more dropped points staring them in the face, Arsenal stepped up the pressure in the final 20 minutes. Theo Walcott made a positive impression from the bench and produced a fine cross that just missed the head of Giroud, but deflected invitingly back to Cazorla right on the penalty spot yet somehow the former Malaga man blasted a shot over the top with the goal at his mercy.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, QPR made their task of hanging on even more challenging. In a moment of true absurdity, Mbia aimed a wild kick out at Thomas Vermaelen having just won a free kick for the Belgian’s challenge.
Unsurprisingly, the onslaught on QPR’s goal only increased. Amidst complete uncertainty in the visitors’ box following a corner, an attempted clearance bounced straight back off Nedum Onuoha from just a few yards out and with the ball arrowing toward the corner of the net, Julio Cesar made a sensational save to claw the ball away from goal.
But QPR could hang on no longer. After Julio Cesar had made yet another fine save from a Giroud header, Ramsey prodded the ball toward goal and onto the head of a clearly offside Arteta. The initial effort came back off the cross bar, but the Spaniard converted at the second attempt.
The officials saw nothing of the infringement, though, and it appeared the three points were now in the bag for the Gunners.
However, the Arsenal defense was less than impressive in allowing the struggling visitors two fine chances in the closing stages. First Esteban Granero broke the offside trap from Adel Taarabt’s fine lofted through ball, but after taking a good first touch the former Real Madrid midfielder scuffed a poor effort wide across goal.
Arsenal’s defense was even more conspicuous by its absence moments later as Jamie Mackie ran straight through the back line from the right touchline and it was a only a good low block from Mannone that spared the home side’s blushes.