Arsenal survived a missed penalty and a red card for Olivier Giroud to beat Queens Park Rangers 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Boxing Day. Alexis Sanchez saw his tame early penalty saved by Robert Green, but soon made amends by heading in Kieran Gibbs’ cross. Arsenal’s dominance threatened to be thwarted at the start of the second half when Giroud ludicrously stuck his head into that of Nedum Onuoha, but, with QPR continuing to play without any conviction, Arsenal looked to have made the points safe through Tomas Rosicky’s deflected strike. QPR finally produced something positive 11 minutes from time when Charlie Austin took his only chance of the game from the penalty spot after Mathieu Debuchy was adjudged to have brought down Junior Hoilett, but it wasn’t enough to force a dramatic late turnaround.
A man down, Arsenal were certainly hanging on at the end. And, while seemingly unfortunate to have conceded the first penalty when Debuchy got a touch to the ball before Hoilett went down, they were lucky to avoid the concession of another in the dying stages. Kieran Gibbs made a late challenge on Bobby Zamora as he went in for a cross, but this time the referee was unmoved.
The finale was in sharp contrast to the vast majority of the encounter, however. It was a confident performance from Arsenal as they moved back above Tottenham and closed the gap to the final Champions League place to just two points. Still, the resistance offered up by QPR was meager in the extreme. One did not have to look far for reasons why Harry Redknapp’s side have now lost all nine of their Premier League matches away from Loftus Road this season.
In an effort to try and turn around their fortunes on the road, Redknapp went with the same three-center-back system that served Liverpool well in their 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Sunday. It was also a return to a formation that QPR used without any success at the start of the season. The players again looked ill at ease with it, although the system could provide little excuse for a woeful performance by left wing-back Armand Traore against his former club. Traore’s poor display began when he launched a ludicrous tackle on Sanchez with the ball running harmlessly toward the side of the box to give away a chance for Arsenal to open the scoring from 12 yards.
Sanchez, a surprise penalty taker given his limited experience from the spot, failed to capitalize, and a tame effort was blocked by Green. But the way the game was going, it always appeared that both Arsenal and Sanchez would have the chances to atone for that failure. Sure enough, in the 37th minute, Sanchez got the opening goal. Equally unsurprisingly, it was Traore who was at fault. From Kieran Gibbs’ cross the QPR defender switched off and trotted back into position as Sanchez arrived at the far post to stoop and header into the net for his 10th Premier League goal of the season.
A comfortable, drama-free second half appeared in store. But that script was emphatically cast aside eight minutes after the restart. Giroud was attempting to run onto a through ball when he appeared to get a shove in the back from Onuoha. Incensed, the French striker rose to his feet and aggressively motioned his head toward that of his opponent. The contact made have been minimal, and Onuoha certainly milked it, but it left the officials with little choice. The reaction from Wenger as he watched his player, who has only just returned from a lengthy injury absence, jog past him and down the tunnel toward a three-match suspension spoke volumes for his dismay with the idiocy of the moment.
Initially, it didn’t appear that the incident would have any real impact on this contest. QPR were failing to seize the advantage and their defending again let them down to fall two goals behind. Four QPR players were attracted toward Sanchez as he dribbled toward the box, allowing the Chilean to play in an unmarked Rosicky. The veteran Czech got the help of a deflection off the sole of Steven Caulker’s boot to mark his first Premier League start of the season with a goal.
But Arsenal couldn’t maintain that control with a man less and QPR finally mounted some pressure. A fortuitous penalty gave the previously isolated Austin the chance to net his 12th Premier League goal of the season, but it couldn’t paper over the cracks of another disappointing away day.