Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna were both welcomed back from long spells out injured as Arsenal hosted bottom of the table Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League. Arsenal had the perfect opportunity to reverse a drop in form that had seen them lose their last two matches, against a side that had failed to keep a clean sheet in an away game since September last year.
As the game got under way, Santi Cazorla, who was listed as starting on the wide right, quickly slotted into a more customary central position while Aaron Ramsey switched to the wide right. After the mid-week game against Schalke, where Andre Santos’ defensive weaknesses were badly exposed, it appeared that Lukas Podolski may also have had defensive duties entrusted to him to provide cover for the Brazilian, especially against the pace of Shaun Wright-Phillips.
The 8th minute saw the first chance for Arsenal when Santos sent in a cross from the left looking for Olivier Giroud, the ball taking a deflection of a QPR defender, but Julio Cesar did well to keep the ball away from the prowling Arsenal striker. Soon after, Ramsey’s header off a Sagna cross beat Cesar but went out of play after hitting the cross bar.
In the 19th minute, Wilshere, after a neat 1-2 with Cazorla, fired a shot on goal from the edge of the box which Cesar needed two attempts to save. The QPR goalkeeper was not looking the most assured, and almost embarassed himself when he dwelt on the ball too long under pressure from Giroud, before kicking the ball away only as far as Podolski but luckily for him the home side could not take advantage. On the other end, QPR were not offering much in terms of a goal threat and apart from a good solo run by Junior Hoilett which had the Arsenal back line briefly worried, it had been a relatively relaxed outing for Thomas Vermaelen and Co.
As the game approached half-time Jack Wilshere was finding himself more and more at the centre of every Arsenal attack and in the 45th minute, again linked up well with Cazorla before laying it off for Santos, whose shot though was easily saved by Cesar.
Arsenal started the second half brightly and had an opportunity in the 51st minute when after Santos was fouled by Esteban Granero, Mertesacker’s header from the resulting free kick forced a good save from Cesar. The action quickly shifted ends and Junior Hoilett thought he had scored when he got the ball into the net after a clever chip from Granero but the flag had already gone up for offside. The 56th minute saw Wilshere drawing a foul after he was sandwiched between Diakite and Granero, but Cazorla’s low free kick struck the wall and rolled harmlessly into Cesar’s hands.
QPR were looking dangerous on the break and in the 65th minute Vermaelen had to be alert to prevent a cross from reaching Bobby Zamora. Bacary Sagna then did very well to take the ball away from the foot of Hoilett just as the QPR man was about to take it in his goal-bound stride.
Arsenal should have taken the lead in the 78th minute, when a cross from substitute Theo Walcott, who had come on for Wilshere, came off the back of Stephane Mbia and fell to Cazorla, but despite having plenty of time and only the goalkeeper to beat, the Spaniard somehow managed to hit the ball over the bar. Soon after, Mbia was in the thick of things again, but for all the wrong reasons, when a moment of madness saw him lash out at Vermaelen with a wild kick, leaving the referee with no option but to show him a straight red.
Arsenal were keen to make the most of their man advantage but to his credit, Julio Cesar had upped his game and in the 82nd minute made a splendid save from a ricochet that came off of team mate Nedum Onuoha. However he could not prevent the home side from breaking the deadlock two minutes later. Though Cesar had done superbly again to stop Giroud’s header from an Arshavin cross, he was powerless to stop Arteta from tapping in, after the Spaniard’s header had come off the bar.
Cesar continued to keep QPR in the game though, beating out Ramsey’s effort in the 87th minute before staving off a Cazorla curler a couple of minutes later. The visitors nearly equalized in the 90th minute, when Adel Taarabt’s overhead pass found Granero who took a good first touch, but his attempt on goal went wide off the far post. Substitute Jamie Mackie then took off on a brilliant run, shook off Arteta and Santos before getting past Vermaelen, but Vito Mannone did well to close down the Ranger. Granero then had a free kick turned away by the Arsenal keeper as the clock wound down.
As the referee blew the final whistle there was a mixture of joy and relief amongst the Arsenal players and fans alike, but they know their team would have to produce much improved performances in the future if they are to keep their hopes of challenging for the Premier League title alive.Published 28 Oct 2012, 13:30 IST