By Nik Brumsack at Loftus Road
A highly-convincing second-half performance was the catalyst for Arsenal’s 2-1 victory
over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Wednesday evening.
After a first half low on chances but high on endeavour, Arsenal took the lead just after the hour when Olivier Giroud clinically finished an incisive counter-attack.
Alexis Sanchez added a second soon after, twisting and turning his way into the penalty area before shooting low past the impressive Rob Green.
Charlie Austin - a threat all evening - pulled one back in the closing stages but, like they did against Crystal Palace 10 days ago, Arsène Wenger’s team did enough to hold on.
This was a high-octane and entertaining London derby in which Arsenal sparkled after the break but had to display battle and fight in the closing stages against a committed QPR side whose slow start to the second half ultimately cost them.
Wenger has craved consistency all season long and seems to have got it from his team at an important stage of the campaign. This was Arsenal’s 10th victory from 12 and was another vital one, particularly with Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United all winning.
SETTING THE SCENE
Arsenal were given a boost pre-match by the news of Aaron Ramsey’s return to the squad. The Welshman had missed four matches since coming off with a hamstring injury against Leicester City but was deemed fit enough for a place on the bench here.
Wenger made two changes from the side that had beaten Everton on Sunday - with Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky, who scored against the Toffees, coming into the side. Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were the men to make way, taking their place as substitutes, but Wojciech Szczesny and Nacho Monreal missed out due to illness and a slight back strain respectively. That meant that Kieran Gibbs made his 150th start for the club at left back.
While QPR have impressed at Loftus Road this season, collecting 19 of their 22 league points at home, the hosts entered this fixture without a home win in five matches. Their line up included 14-goal Charlie Austin - the joint-top English scorer in the Premier League this season - but there was no place in the squad for former Gunner Armand Traore.
The Gunners came into this game in fine form, with nine victories in their last 11 matches. Wenger’s side had, however, only one one out of the last six Premier League meetings between the sides at Loftus Road - with Theo Walcott scoring in the first minute to secure a 1-0 win when the teams last met here in May 2013.
The game started at a slow pace - appropriate really, given the heavy west London traffic that meant fans were still streaming through the gates some 20 minutes after kick-off.
The hosts began in an industrious and hardworking fashion, with Karl Henry and Sandro pressing Arsenal’s midfield whenever they received the ball.
As a result, Wenger’s team struggled to keep possession and they were nearly punished when Henry dispossessed Cazorla midway inside the Arsenal half and fed Matt Phillips, whose inviting cross was cleared by Mertesacker.
For all of QPR’s energy, it took until midway through the first half for the first chance to arrive. Bobby Zamora latched onto a long ball and headed it back to Austin, whose powerful 25-yard shot was straight at Ospina.
Arsenal instantly clicked into gear and manoeuvred the ball to the other end, with Giroud’s eventual effort well saved by Rob Green.
The move seemed to wake the visitors up and they went close to an opener just after the half hour, when Gabriel’s goalbound header from Mesut Ozil’s corner was blocked. That proved to be the Brazilian’s last meaningful contribution - he was substituted soon after following a clash in the Arsenal penalty area. Koscielny replaced him.
Austin then whistled another long-ranger just wide and Cazorla’s volley brought a fine save from Green at the other end, but there would be no breakthrough before half-time.
Arsenal - and Rosicky in particular - raced out of the blocks after the break. The Czech received possession on the right wing and darted beyond Sandro before advancing to the byline. Ozil looked set to turn home the resulting centre but couldn’t get enough purchase on his effort, before Alexis drew a fine near-post save from Green after recycling possession.
The Chilean twice conjured opportunities for himself in the following minutes, first toe-poking a 20-yard shot two yards off target and then cutting inside Darnell Furlong before curling a shot wide.
Arsenal were enjoying their best spell of the game, moving the ball more effectively and finding space between the lines. However they could have gone behind despite all their good work, when Phillips’ ferocious 25-yard strike flew just wide of Ospina's left-hand post.
Five minutes later the opening goal did arrive and, as on Sunday, it was Giroud who scored it.
QPR Substitute Nico Kranjcar was tackled just outside the Arsenal box by Cazorla. From there, the counter was lightning quick. Cazorla fed Ozil, who in turn set the galloping Alexis free on the left. The ball was worked to Gibbs and, after his effort was deflected, Giroud was on hand to sweep home from close range.
Arsenal deserved the lead on the basis of their enterprising second-half display. They continued to dominate after the goal, slicing through the space vacated by Sandro’s withdrawal.
A second goal soon arrived - and it was no surprise to see Alexis score it. The forward had twice been thwarted in quick succession by Green after Giroud’s opener, but finally got the better of the former England goalkeeper with a fierce low strike that beat the QPR No 1 at his near post. It was the Chilean's 19th goal of a supreme debut season, and his first in eight matches.
The visitors continued to push forward and would have added a third were it not for Green springing to his right to superbly touch Ozil’s deflected effort onto the post.
That stop became more important eight minutes from time when Austin, whose purposeful display will have impressed watching England manager Roy Hodgson, turned on the edge of the area before sending an unstoppable shot past Ospina.
The goal raised belief inside Loftus Road but the Gunners saw out the remaining 12 minutes with little alarm to stay third.
Referee: Kevin Friend
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