QUEENS Park Rangers were the architects of their own downfall – being edged out by the odd goal against Champions League-chasing Arsenal.
Robin van Persie further enhanced his goalscoring reputation by netting his 35th goal of the calendar year after a wayward pass from Shaun Wright-Phillips put QPR on the back foot.
The Dutchman’s strike sandwiched several opportunities for the Arsenal number ten, but he failed to capitalise on some ponderous defending and perplexing officiating.
Rangers had chances to not only take the lead but also haul themselves level, former Gunner Matt Connolly missing out from inside the area.
While Arsenal are evidently a shadow of their former selves, Queens Park Rangers can be proud of their efforts despite the individual errors that continue to scupper their progress.
Neil Warnock must have had an eye on Monday when he made five changes for the visit to the Emirates, with Paddy Kenny missing out through injury, while Shaun Derry, Clint Hill, Fitz Hall and Heidar Helguson all dropped out.
Radek Cerny started behind Luke Young, Danny Gabbidon, Matt Connolly and Armand Traoré with skipper Joey Barton and Alejandro Faurlín starting in the centre of midfield. Adel Taarabt, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jamie Mackie played just off the returning Jay Bothroyd.
Arsenal started with Wojciech Szczesny behind a back four of Johan Djourou, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen. Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song comprised the midfield three for the hosts.
Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin flanked lone forward Robin van Persie – the striker the clear attacking threat for the hosts having netted 16 times in 17 appearances in the current campaign.
KICK OFF: ARSENAL v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Queens Park Rangers’ first trip to the Emirates Stadium saw them skippered by Joey Barton, a midfielder that caused a stir on his last visit on the opening day for Newcastle United – pockets of fans had all the memories necessary to pillory him on his entrance.
Rangers were looking a rejuvenated set up despite wholesale changed to the team following a positive point at Swansea City. Their attacking nature was clearly transferred from the Liberty Stadium as they kicked off on the front foot.
Positive work from Jay Bothroyd saw him outmuscle the ageing German international Per Mertesacker on the edge of the area, before swivelling and shooting left-footed at the grateful Wojciech Szczesny.
Arsenal were getting little time to play their patented brand of attractive football, with Ale Faurlín and Joey Barton the heart of the engine room. Shortly before the ten minute mark Rangers came even closer to breaking the deadlock.
Adel Taarabt picked up where he left off in South Wales to slot a sublime through ball for Shaun Wright-Phillips. The diminutive wide-man clipped with the outside of his boot to draw another save from Szczesny.
Arsenal’s side were as quiet as the support, with barely a whimper coming from the stands or the field. Then the distinct positive aspect and most dangerous attacking threat in the Arsenal front-line was laid bare.
van Persie picked up the ball on the right hand side of the area before tantalising former Arsenal defender Matt Connolly. The forward turned the defender inside out before shooting straight at Radek Cerny.
This further epitomised and displayed the nature of Arsenal’s current attacking set-up. A useful spell of passes going forward, but lacking that familiar cut and thrust – nevertheless a striker that can score the goals necessary to drag the rest from the mire.
While the attacking intent was there by the visiting side, chances were few and far between as Joey Barton latched onto some neat work by former Spurs man Taarabt, before striking tamely wide to Szczesny’s right.
More worrying for Rangers moments later when this fact was highlighted. An Aaron Ramsey cross fell for the Dutchman – who appeared categorically offside – before his header was steered wide of Cerny’s right hand upright.
The home support started to come alive – more in terms of castigating their side than in a positive manner, but nevertheless Arsenal started to play with a little more vigour and created more opportunities.
Johan Djourou beat two men before laying the ball to the potent van Persie. The striker showed too much of the ball to Luke Young and Cerny and fairly sliced an effort high, wide and handsome to the left of the target.
While Rangers were battling resiliently, it was Arsenal that created the opportunities – van Persie was once again the solitary architect as his free kick caused all manner of confusion in the Rangers penalty area.
Laurent Koscielny nodded away from a floundering Cerny only for Walcott to inexplicably place the ball back across the target for the invisible man. He was lambasted by sections of the home crowd as Rangers survived the scare.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out who was at the centre of the next home move, van Persie latched onto a through ball, brushing off the ponderous Connolly before rifling a right-footed effort harmlessly over Cerny’s bar.
Still more was to come from the rampant hosts as a van Persie corner eventually fell to Mikel Arteta on the edge of the area. The midfielder – who previously suffered defeat against Rangers for Everton this season – struck the ball powerfully.
It appeared to be sneaking beyond Cerny only for Barton – who had been previously cautioned for a late challenge – managed to glance the effort away from the target and away for a corner.
The murmurings of discontent were evident around the Emirates as the half drew to a close given the disappointment of taking a solitary point against Wolverhampton Wanderers last time out.
HALF TIME: ARSENAL 0-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The half hardly started with the same level of entertainment but the only interesting point of note was a succession of frankly bizarre decisions from a linesman that appeared a long way out of his depth.
Three offside decisions that were not close in any respect were coupled with a duo of frankly farcical goal kick decisions – highlighted particularly when the defensive unit lined-up to defend a set-piece.
Arsenal were looking positive but lacked the cutting thrust to scythe open a stubborn QPR rearguard. Then came Rangers opening chance of the half with the opportunity presenting itself to Ale Faurlín.
The impressive Armand Traoré showed his former club what they were missing when he played a neat exchange for Jay Bothroyd. The former Arsenal forward sent in a stinging centre that was parried into the path of Faurlín.
The midfielder could only engineer a tame right-footed effort that was easily plucked out of the air by the grateful Szczesny. A genuine opportunity for Rangers who had created good chances at the Emirates.
Moments later Arsenal spurned the best opportunity of the encounter to date as Ramsey played a through ball for Walcott. The speed-demon somehow evaded the offside flag to take him one-on-one with Cerny.
In attempting to give the Czech stopper the eyes, he in fact conspired to pull a right-footed effort wide of the left-hand upright. This was met with much chagrin from the home supporters, who awoke from a slumber to make their feelings known.
On the hour mark came the turning point of the game. A cross from the right flank by QPR was deflected out for a corner, but inexplicably another goal kick was given in the next in a succession of blinkered decisions.
Barely seconds later a Shaun Wright-Phillips nightmare saw him feed Andrey Arshavin – the Russian midfielder pounced on the opportunity to square for Robin van Persie and the Dutchman did the rest to roll home with consummate ease.
GOAL: ARSENAL 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
It was a dagger through the heart of the hard-working Queens Park Rangers, but once again they had individual errors to point to following van Persie’s 17th goal of the campaign and 35th of the calendar year in sum.
DJ Campbell replaced Jay Bothroyd in attack and immediately Rangers responded with a golden opportunity. Taarabt tantalised down the left before cutting inside and firing an effort goal-bound.
Szczesny has Campbell in his eye-line and still manage to palm Taarabt’s right-footed effort away for a corner. Sadly the resultant set-piece was taken short and culminated in nothing but a free-kick the other way.
Another Taarabt corner fell positively for Connolly off the head of Gabbidon. The defender could only clip the ball well over the bar – dashing his fairly tale return to the club where he learned his trade.
Substitute Gervinho looked lively upon his introduction, ghosting past a succession of players before Connolly blocked his progress with a well-timed tackle. The game hit a lull as Arsenal purported their brand of football.
The distinct difference between this side and the Arsenal of ten years ago was the lack of tempo and energy in their attacking stride. Often Ramsey would take an extra second that Rangers required to regroup, an in that instance the move had stifled.
Gervinho then missed a guilt-edge opportunity after more useful work from van Persie down the left – his cut back saw the forward peel away from some static defending to clip wide from inside the six-yard box.
Chances were proving few and far between in the latter stages with QPR pressing higher up the field in search of scraps, but Arsenal opted to run down the clock by the corner flag and deploying second shaving tactics from set-pieces.
This was one of the more surprising aspects of the afternoon and rather made many feel proud in the away end, that the visiting side`s play necessitated the need to run down the clock in such a fashion.
Nevertheless it would be Arsenal that celebrated a winning end to 2011, and Robin van Persie parachuted his side into the top four – Queens Park Rangers now look to Norwich City on Monday as without question their biggest game to date.
FULL TIME: ARSENAL 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Wojciech Szczesny, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen (Francois Coquelin 54), Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott (Gervinho 74), Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song, Johan Djourou, Andrey Arshavin (Tomas Rosicky 67).
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Radek Cerny, Danny Gabbidon, Adel Taarabt, Jay Bothroyd (DJ Campbell 74), Alejandro Faurlin, Jamie Mackie (Tommy Smith 64), Armand Traore (Bradley Orr 77), Matt Connolly, Joey Barton, Luke Young, Shaun Wright-Phillips.