Wenger hangs 2012 hopes on keeping Van Persie

Arsenal 1 Queen's Park Rangers 0

The Emirates Stadium

Even if 2011 was the hardest year of Arsène Wenger's reign at Arsenal, it ended with the promise of a brighter 2012. Robin van Persie's second-half goal was enough to beat Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, meaning that Arsenal saw in the new year, and the half-way point in the Premier League, in fourth place.

A meaningful achievement, given the Gunners' disastrous start to the season, when their spring-time collapse extended into summer departures and famous defeats – 8-2 at Old Trafford and 4-3 at Ewood Park – which left Arsenal with four points from their first five games. "I didn't know that we would be in the top four," said Wenger of what he felt in that difficult September.

"I was confident because we had a good spirit. I always felt the players will try and inside the club we are quite solid. This club has been brave and united because we have gone through some rocky times. I knew as well that we had the Champions League to play so we had something to focus on, so that's why we slowly came back."

With some understatement, Wenger described 2011 as "not the easiest year of my career", but it is a more welcome challenge Arsenal face in the next few months – the fight to re-qualify for next season's Champions League.

"It's hard, yes, and we are one or two points ahead of the other teams so it is very tight," said Wenger. "Liverpool winning yesterday means they are back in the race as well so it will be tight until the end. We have all the teams to come here – Tottenham, Chelsea and Man United."

If Arsenal are to have a successful 2012 they will need more brilliance from Van Persie, who scored his 35th League goal of 2011 against Rangers, leaving him one short of Alan Shearer's record for a calendar year. Keeping their captain at the club is vital, and Wenger acknowledged that the team must match Van Persie's achievements.

"To continue to improve and be capable to fight for the top of the League," Wenger replied when asked what the club has to do. "We will try very hard to do that, don't worry." The immediate priority, though, is defensive cover.

Thomas Vermaelen limped off on Saturday with a calf strain, ruling him out of today's game at Fulham and next Monday's FA Cup tie with Leeds United. Thierry Henry may make his return against Leeds but does not have clearance for today's match.

Neil Warnock's January concerns are rather more pressing than Wenger's. Not for the first time this season the QPR manager watched a committed performance go unrewarded, and the need for quality additions is obvious.

"I've been looking forward to [the transfer window] for a number of weeks," he said. "We're playing all right but we need three or four." Rangers host Norwich this afternoon, and will need to have incoming Manchester United striker Federico Macheda signed on loan by midday for him to be eligible.

Scorer: Arsenal Van Persie 60.

Substitutes: Arsenal Coquelin 7 (Vermaelen, 54), Rosicky 6 (Arshavin, 67), Gervinho (Walcott, 74). Queen's Park Rangers Campbell 6 (Bothroyd, 64), Smith (Mackie, 74), Orr (Traore, 77). Booked: Arsenal Vermaelen, Djourou. QPR Barton, Young.

Man of the match Van Persie. Match rating 7/10. Possession: Arsenal 63% QPR 37%.

Attempts on target: Arsenal 7 QPR 3.

Referee M Atkinson (W Yorkshire). Attendance 60,067.

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