By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger believes that 2011 will go down as a vital year in the history of Arsenal Football Club - not because of what his team achieved but because of what they overcame.
The Frenchman will hope to see in 2012 with his favourite tipple and the warm satisfaction of getting three points against QPR. No-one can suggest the past year has been anything near vintage but Arsenal will end it in an ascending, aspirant position. If they continue on the same gradient then the next 12 months will be better - and, perhaps, silver-laden.
"It was a very difficult year where the Club was tested in every department," admitted Wenger at Friday's press conference. "But I believe it will be seen as a very important one in the history of the Club.
"Despite all the problems we faced the Club has been resolute, united and stayed at the top. We are one of the two English teams qualified in the Champions League, and after a difficult start and difficult summer, we have come back to a good position in the League.
"It was certainly a year in which Arsenal have shown they are a Club that is brave and has exceptional qualities."
Speaking of exceptional quality, Thierry Henry cannot play against QPR but the striker is sure to dominate the day. On Friday, Wenger revealed he is expecting to complete a two-month loan deal from New York Red Bulls soon.
You sense the talismanic frontman has been brought in for situations like one Arsenal faced in the final 20 minutes against a hard-working Wolves side on Saturday - tight, tense and in need of a little inspiration. Victory would have put the home side properly in the top four for the first time this season. The 1-1 draw was a blow but Arsenal created numerous chances and keeper Wayne Hennessey had a world-class game. It happens. Aston Villa could argue with equal justification that they did not deserve to be beaten by Yossi Benayoun's 87th-minute header six days earlier.
Leagues just don't lie, that is why they are the premier competitions. Domestically, Arsenal will be measured over 38 top-flight games and the QPR fixture only brings us to the halfway point.
A superb last two months - in which they have taken 26 of the 36 points available - has left the fate of Wenger's team in their own hands once more. Now it is a matter of grasping the opportunity - especially in the games at Emirates Stadium.
"We have played 18 games and that means there are 20 to play, so we have a good opportunity to come back as long as we focus on our performances and are consistent," said the manager.
"We had a poor start but in the last three months we have not lost any points on [the top teams] however still we have to catch back.
"And there is one difference - we have played at Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs. That means they all must come to us.
"For me this season will be decided by how well we do at home against the big teams. The target for us is to win our home games because we have it all in our hands, as long as we manage to beat these teams at Emirates.
"If you look back over the last 15 years we have always faced the same questions. Read the statements that have been made in July and August and you can see that we have overcome those pessimistic predictions, so hopefully we can do that again."
If home form is the key, then QPR need to be dispatched. Arsenal have struggled in their last three Premier League games at Emirates Stadium - Fulham and Wolves dug-out draws while Everton were only beaten by a wonderful finish from Robin van Persie with 20 minutes left just as concern was starting to take hold.
The Dutchman needs a hat-trick to reach 37 Premier League goals for the calendar year and thereby beat Alan Shearer's existing record. Wenger confirmed the Van Persie would start on Saturday but added neither player nor manager would be bothered by numerical baubles. However both will be pleased Theo Walcott is back after sickness.
Neil Warnock's visitors are likely to cut from the same hard-wearing cloth as Wolves. QPR have been mid-table for most of the season but they have picked up just one point from a possible 12 and it is conceivable that defeat on Saturday could see them drop into the relegation zone.
Striker Heidar Helguson has rolled back the years this season to grab seven goals in 12 Premier League games - and, in the process, secure a new contract. Armand Traore's last Arsenal game before moving to Loftus Road was the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford. He has established himself at left-back.
"They are a dangerous side," said Wenger. "Just look at the results in the Premier League over the past week, anyone can beat anyone, home or away. For a while at the start of the season it wasn't like that but suddenly we are again where we were last year where anybody can beat anybody.
"That all means this is a big game for us. Our experience against Wolves tells us that everybody fights, every game is difficult. At the moment what we want is to bounce back. Look at the consistency we have shown in the last 10 to 12 games and we only lost at Man City in an unfortunate way.
"During the Christmas period we have taken three points against Villa and dropped two against Wolves so it is important to bounce back quickly now."
Goodbye and good riddance 2011. Here's hoping for 2012 - a year in which Arsenal's bouncebackability may just bring its reward.
REF: M Atkinson
Arsenal: Santos (ankle), Mannone (shoulder), Wilshere (ankle), Gibbs (groin), Jenkinson (back), Diaby (hamstring), Sagna (ankle).
QPR: Ferdinand (hamstring), Murphy (calf), Hulse (knee), Dyer (ankle)
* QPR have take two points from their last six Premier League games.
* Arsenal's last fixture against QPR was a 6-0 win at Loftus Road in the FA Cup on January 27, 2001. Peter Crouch plus former Gunners Steve Morrow, Chris Kiwomya, Lee Harper and Matthew Rose were on duty for the home side.
* Tony Adams was in the Arsenal line-up that day. He is a special guest at Emirates Stadium for this game.
* QPR and Arsenal have met eight times in the Premier League era. Arsenal have won only once.
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