It is tough at the top but tighter at the bottom. A day of tension and fluctuating fortunes for the four clubs at the wrong end – Blackburn do not play until tomorrow against Manchester United – finished with wins for three of them, including Queens Park Rangers.
After coming from two goals down to beat Liverpool in their last home game, they ended Arsenal's run of seven victories with a performance of grit and determination, yet came off to find themselves still in the relegation places.
Hardly had the final whistle gone than Rangers' chairman, Tony Fernandes, was tweeting away in triumph. Joey Barton is having a Twitter truce, but he had used his programme notes to berate the supporters who booed him against Liverpool and declare: "I can't wait to get out there and prove all the doubters wrong."
Barton did a steady job in midfield, as grateful as his team-mates that Arsenal were so far below par in that department and every other one. Thomas Vermaelen was at fault for both goals, the midfield was lopsided with Aaron Ramsey out wide and by the time Arsène Wenger changed personnel Rangers had regained the lead that Theo Walcott had denied them by driving in a rebound after hitting the post.
With Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marouane Chamakh brought on, Arsenal finished the game with six attacking players. They failed to create a real chance in the final half-an-hour.
"In the duels QPR had a little bit of extra special commitment," Wenger said. "We can only be unhappy with our own performance."
In contrast to their high-profile opponents, the home side had homespun heroes in solid old pros like Shaun Derry, protecting the back-line, and Clint Hill, standing tall on the few occasions Arsenal threatened. Behind them another old soldier, Paddy Kenny, made only one save of note, from the otherwise subdued Robin van Persie.
"The last three home games we've played really well and today was the best of the lot," said Rangers' manager, Mark Hughes. He has a good record against Arsenal and he issued his players with a game-plan they carried out to the letter.
"To a man they were exceptional in terms of discipline and keeping our shape," he said.
Discipline has been a problem in recent weeks and Djbril Cissé was missing yesterday after two red cards in four games. That encouraged Hughes to play Bobby Zamora on his own in attack, with Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt supporting from wide positions and required to prevent the Arsenal full-backs breaking forward.
It all worked rather well. Arsenal had developed two alarming tendencies from the start: conceding free-kicks and diving in on Zamora, who was adept at either holding the ball up or turning away from challenges. Free-kicks swung in by Taarabt often caused problems, notably in the 13th minute when Zamora, unmarked, was allowed a header he should have scored from but placed too high.
Nine minutes later Taarabt moved into Zamora's position down the centre, turned away from a Vermaelen attempt at a challenge and a trip and ran on to beat Wojiech Szczesny.
It was a huge boost to the confidence of the home team and crowd as well as Taarabt, who until then had had more shots without scoring – 68 – than anyone else in the Premier League.
Arsenal had barely shown so it was unexpected when they equalised nine minutes before half-time. Walcott took a pass from Van Persie, shot against a post and knocked the rebound back past Kenny.
For a brief period in the second half it looked as though the visitors might build on that and Kenny saved well when Van Persie was bearing down on him after being played clean through by Alex Song. But shortly afterwards Vermaelen failed to stop Mackie, who cut the ball back for Samba Diakite to score his first goal in Engish football. Rangers' run-in includes home games against Spurs and Chelsea plus visits to the two Manchester clubs, the City game coming on the final day. Judgment day? The judgement yesterday was that they could still make it.
QPR (4-5-1): Kenny; Onuoha, Ferdinand, Hill, Taiwo; Mackie, Barton, Derry, Diakite, Taarabt; Zamora.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Song, Arteta; Walcott, Rosicky, Ramsey; Van Persie.
Referee Mike Dean.
Man of the match Derry (QPR).
Match rating 7/10.Reuse content