By Richard Clarke
Mikel Arteta scored six minutes from time as Arsenal ended a tough week with a welcome 1-0 win against QPR at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger’s side needed a lift after defeats to Norwich and Schalke so, in the circumstances, this will do just fine.
Despite the return of Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna, Arsenal struggled to break down a dogged QPR side. And when they did penetrate, visiting keeper Julio Cesar seemed inspired.
But the home side kept going and, after Stephane Mbia was sent off for kicking out at Thomas Vermaelen, they looked much more incisive.
The crucial goal was like the game – scrappy. But you get three points for winning, whether it comes via fluent football or scratchy soccer.
And when things are not going right, you need to work hard and simply believe.
It was those two qualities that got Arsenal all three points this afternoon.
The return of Wilshere had been fully expected but eyebrows were raised when it transpired he would begin the game. It was his first Premier League start for 524 days and, quite understandably, his opening touches were met with hearty cheers.
Sagna’s comeback was also significant. The defender had been missing since the final home game of last season on May 5. The Frenchman’s inclusion pushed Carl Jenkinson down to the bench. Francis Coquelin was alongside him in order to make space for Wilshere.
Elsewhere, Olivier Giroud replaced Gervinho up front.
The two returnees seemed to lift Arsenal this afternoon. If those back-to-back defeats had dented the team’s confidence, it did not show. QPR arrived rock bottom yet they had shown signs of recovery in their draw with Everton last weekend.
Still, they were pushed back in the opening stages. Cesar made a sharp low save from a deflected shot by Andre Santos. Then Sagna went marauding down the right and Ramsey met his cross with a looping header that bounced off the top of the bar.
Lukas Podolski fired wide and Wilshere stung Cesar’s hands from distance.
However, gradually, QPR gained a footing in the game. Jose Bosingwa and Shaun Wright-Phillips both found space down the right but could not find quality in their final ball.
On the half-hour, Giroud fired in an optimistic cross-shot from the left-hand channel and Cesar made an unconvincing sprawling save.
Neither side could muster much more before half-time as the game lost its rhythm but immediately after the restart the overworked Cesar made a fine stop after Per Mertesacker flicked on Arteta’s free-kick.
Minutes later, Junior Hoillet burst through and chipped the ball over Mannone. However the ‘goal’ was rightly disallowed for offside.
Arsenal were still the superior side with Wilshere increasingly influential. Ramsey darted through and Giroud drove a free-kick into the wall.
However it was not enough. The home side had lots of pressure but not enough precision. In addition QPR were dangerous on the break. Within seconds, Vermaelen had to divert Wright-Phillips’ cross away from Bobby Zamora and Sagna hooked the ball away from the threatening Hoilett
Just past the hour, Wenger brought on Theo Walcott for Wilshere, who was always going to succumb to tiredness. Soon afterwards, Gervinho replaced Poldolski on the left. The manager was trying to win this game with width.
By now, Arsenal were squeezing QPR back almost into their own area. And, 13 minutes from time, they created their best chance. Walcott whipped in an excellent ball from the right and though Giroud missed his header at the near post the ball bounced back out to Cazorla 12 yards out. With the goal at his mercy, he blazed the ball over the bar.
The visitors were still reeling from that when they were reduced to ten men. Vermaelen and Mbia went shoulder-to-shoulder near the corner flag. Having lost the battle, the Cameroon international needlessly scythed down the Belgian.
The finale was becoming frantic. Cesar made a superb save after Jamie Mackie’s clearance bounced back off Nedum Onuoha.
Then Gervinho was stretchered off and Arshavin came on.
Then came the goal.
The Russian was crucial. His excellent chip back from the left-hand byline was met with a powerful header from Giroud. Cesar made another superb save and Arteta nodded the rebound on to the bar before eventually poking home.
Cue the pandemonium… and the relief.
Cesar saved again from Ramsey as Arsenal looked to make the game safe. The keeper also batted away Cazorla’s classy curler toward the far corner.
However there were late scares when Abel Taarabt sent Esteban Granero free down the right-hand channel. Fortunately, for Arsenal, he slid his shot wide.
Then Mackie danced through three tackles and Mannone stood firm to block at point-blank range.
But Arsenal deserved the three points for the battling qualities they displayed this afternoon.
- Vermaelen (C)
- Arteta Goal!
- Wilshere 67
- Giroud Yellow Card
- Podolski 71
- Arshavin 82
- Walcott 67
- Gervinho 82 71
- Mbia Red Card
- Traore 73
- Granero Yellow Card
- Wright-Phillips 79
- Zamora 73
- Onuoha 73
- Cisse 73
- Mackie 79