Match Report: Arsenal's Mikel Arteta breaks resistance of Julio Cesar and 10-man Queens Park Rangers
Arsenal 1 Queens Park Rangers 0: Wilshere shines on return from injury but it all gets going late on after Mbia receives a straight red
Never mind half-term holidays and the clocks going back; it felt like bleak midwinter here yesterday afternoon until a football match broke out in the final 10 minutes of normal time.
In that period Stephan Mbia was sent off and Arsenal finally broke through to score a goal that should have been disallowed for offside; then in added time Rangers missed two glorious chances to steal only their fourth point of the season.
As those were their only shots of the game it would be incorrect to claim an injustice but it was all terribly hard on the Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar, whose heroics had threatened for so long to add to the frustration that has been bubbling under at the Emirates since the early-season promise faded.
Jack Wilshere's return after 17 months – he was their best player in his 67 minutes on the pitch – lifted the occasion for a while but with Santi Cazorla already fading, there is a danger of too much being asked of him; probably for both club and country.
His last League appearance was on the final day of the season before last, after a campaign in which Arsenal used him much more (in 35 of the 38 League games) than was desirable. Yesterday there was an audible wince every time he went down, above all when Esteban Granero stood on his foot early in the second half.
By the time Wilshere departed three-quarters of the way through proceedings to a standing ovation, his team appeared to be heading for a third successive game without a goal, following the defeats by Norwich City and Schalke. In fact his replacement, Theo Walcott, and later Andrey Arshavin provided the drive down the flanks that had been lacking and it was from a cross stood up by the Russian that the goal came, although Mikel Arteta was clearly offside before his first effort against the bar came back to him to score.
The QPR manager, Mark Hughes, was understandably upset about that decision, although it was difficult to agree with him that his team were "in complete control" until that point.
"We came here and played very well and matched what they produced," he said. "Prior to the sending-off I was making positive substitutions because we felt we looked most likely to win the game. It was a very good away professional performance but once again there's no reward for it." After a difficult set of fixtures, and 19 away games without a win, Rangers must now pick up results from a run that starts at home to Reading next weekend, followed by games with Stoke and Southampton.
As for Arsenal, it was at this stage last season that after a poor start they went on an eight-match unbeaten run, taking them back to their traditional home in the top four. The lack of a reliable goalscorer – not to say a forthcoming visit to Old Trafford – diminishes confidence in a similar revival. Nevertheless, they started the day in ninth position behind less fashionable and expensive London rivals Fulham and West Ham and have, for now, shot up into fourth ahead of today's games.
The annual general meeting on Thursday, coming after those apparently winnable games against Norwich and Schalke, should have been a time for satisfaction and the usual assurances about sustainable business models amid Financial Fair Play. Instead, there was dissatisfaction in the air that continued for most of yesterday afternoon. "We're happy with the result because we lost two big games," Arsène Wenger said. "We needed to be patient and wait for the chance, then take it when it came and we did."
He was right, but with the caveat that what looked like the best chance had been frittered away by Cazorla 12 minutes from time. Walcott's cross from the right was half-cleared to the Spaniard, who from 10 yards out drove it high over the bar.
Only two minutes later Arsenal had the first of their significant breaks. Mbia, fouled by Thomas Vermaelen, lashed out at him and could not complain about a straight red card. Almost immediately Julio Cesar produced one of several outstanding saves, this time off his own defender, Nedum Onuoha, which rather summed up the game. Then Arshavin crossed from the left and the goalkeeper's brilliant one-handed stop deserved to preserve a point. Instead Arteta, obviously offside, headed on to the bar and then thrashed in the rebound.
For the first time on what was a bitter afternoon, the sun came out, metaphorically and literally, but Arsenal could not bask in it. After another wonderful save by Julio Cesar, from Cazorla's low bender, they may have thought they were home. Instead Rangers threatened Vito Mannone for the very first time; and then a second one.
Adel Taarabt dinked a pass through for the normally relaible Esteban Granero, who steered a shot carelessly wide. As five minutes of added time were indicated, the substitute Jamie Mackie went through three inadequate challenges, only to be foiled by the goalkeeper.
The cheers from the home crowd were of relief rather than any great satisfaction.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Mannone; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos; Arteta, Wilshere (Walcott, 67); Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski (Gervinho,71; Arshavin, 81); Giroud.
QPR (4-4-1-1): Julio Cesar; Bosingwa, Mbia, Nelsen, Traoré (Onuoha, 73); Wright-Phillips (Mackie 79), Granero, Diakité, Taarabt; Hoilett; Zamora (Cissé, 72).
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match: Julio Cesar (QPR)
Match rating: 5/10
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