Arsenal's Mikel Arteta Breaks The Hearts Of 10-Man Queens Park Rangers
In the process Wenger's team avoided a third blank of the week, but still delivered a performance of notable entropy until a surge in the last ten minutes sparked by the sending off of Stephane Mbia, and bringing with it Mikel Arteta's scrappy winning goal.
The encouraging midfield rhythms of
early-season were almost entirely absent here as, before the sending off, Arsenal created just a single clear-cut chance in open play against the Premier League's bottom team.
By the end they were even hanging on a little, Vito Mannone forced to save with his legs as Jamie Mackie beat three defenders and scuffed a shot at goal from five yards out.
There was, though, the genuine encouragement of Jack Wilshere's return, a player now charged with being, not just the future, but also the present in an Arsenal midfield that has missed his snap and drive in recent weeks.
Here he started the game and played for over an hour, all the while looking like what he is: a fine young player who has been out of Premier League action for 17 months and who is, by his manager's admission only partially fit.
Appearing with a newly clippered suede-head hairdo on the day London's weather turned bitterly cold for the first time this season his name was greeted pre-match with a genuinely affectionate cheer around a stadium that has of late been a place of rather fretful reflection. And as Arsenal kicked off under inhospitable North London skies Wilshere's first touch — a familiar lithe, rolling, pigeon-toed sidefoot out towards Lukas Podolski -was cause for the day's first concerted cheer. As it turned out the home fans were probably wise to get one in early.
Wilshere it was who created the first semblance of a chance after eight minutes, his driving run down the left in close contact with Lukas Podolski creating some panic in the Rangers defence. Three minutes later Olivier Giroud drew a fine low save from Julio Cesar when he really ought to have scored after a fine burst and low cross from Andre Santos on the same side.
Moments later Aaron Ramsey flicked a header on to the top of the bar from Bacary Sagna's cross from the right. Sagna was another returnee here and instantly adding some thrust down the right.
For Rangers, anchored expensively to the bottom of the table, this was a match they might still have approached with a quiet gleam of optimism. Not simply for historical reasons — Rangers have taken as many points as anyone off Arsenal in the Premier League era — but also with Arsenal's own stuttering momentum in mind. Mark Hughes picked a team of attacking intent, with Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right wing and Junior Hoilett playing closest to Bobby Zamora in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Absorbing Arsenal's early thrusts, Rangers settled well and by midway through the first half the midfield pair of Esteban Granero and Samba Diakite were more than holding their own.
The home team did emerge energised after the break, Wilshere occupying a more advanced position and linking well with Cazorla. His reward was a painful stamp on that fragile left ankle by Granero. The Emirates held its breath as Wilshere writhed, before collectively exhaling as he got up. With 50 minutes gone Arsenal finally managed to disconcert Cesar, Mikel Arteta's whipped free kick skimming off the heads of both Per Mertesacker and Bobby Zamora and drawing an agile clawing save from the Brazilian.
Arsenal were pressing now, with Rangers defending much deeper.
With 23 minutes left Wilshere left the field having been, for the last half hour or so, probably Arsenal's best player. With Rangers beginning to tire and with Gervinho — before he was carried off on a stretcher ten minutes after coming on — and Walcott bringing drive to the flanks, the clearest chance of the match
arrived on 78 minutes. Walcott's cross struck Mbia on the back and fell to Cazorla unmarked and in space ten yards out. He thrashed the bouncing ball horribly over the bar.
Moments later the match turned further Arsenal's way as Mbia was sent off, a straight red card for a petulant kick at Thomas Vermaelen by the corner flag. Ten minutes remained for Arsenal to lay siege.
Cesar saved brilliantly as a corner was almost deflected in off Diakite after a scramble. And finally the goal came on 83 minutes:Arteta poking home from a yard out after heading against the bar. In the preceding scramble Cesar again saved brilliantly and Andrey Arshavin, another sub, produced a fine cross from the right. There were wild scenes of, not so much jubilation, as relief around the Emirates, repeated again as the referee blew full time on a rather fraught week, but one that Arsenal will end in fourth place in the table.