London: Arsenal marked Jack Wilshere’s return to action with a nerve-jangling victory over 10-man QPR secured by a late strike from Mikel Arteta.
The Spaniard scrambled the ball over the goalline in the 84th minute following an afternoon of toil for Arsene Wenger’s side in which they once again failed to find their attacking rhythm.
The result, which lifts the Gunners to fourth position in the Premier League, came thanks to a helping hand from QPR defender Stephane Mbia, who was sent-off in the 80th minute after foolishly kicking out at Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen.
QPR manager Mark Hughes will now face increasing speculation over his future as the west London club remain rock-bottom in the Premier League with three points from nine matches.
The Welshman could do with a player like Wilshere, who made his first Arsenal start since May 2011 following 17 months dogged by ankle problems. The England international looked like he had never been away, skipping past challenges and injecting some energy into the Gunners’ play in the final third.
The rest of the team, however, were visibly lacking in confidence, with their movement static and decision-making suspect.
Those nerves were almost eased in the 10th minute when Aaron Ramsey got on the end of Bacary Sagna’s excellent cross. The Welshman’s header looped towards the far post, beating QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar but bouncing off the top of the crossbar.
Cesar then had to stay alert to deny efforts from Wilshere and Olivier Giroud from outside the penalty area but the visitors would have been happy to restrict the Gunners to hopeful shots from distance.
There were few signs of improvement immediately after the break. Cesar parried away Per Mertesacker’s header following a free-kick from Mikel Arteta before Santi Cazorla lashed over the bar from 12 yards when he should have at least hit the target.
The match swung in the Gunners’ favour, though, 10 minutes from time when Mbia needlessly lashed out at Arsenal skipper Vermaelen as the pair competed for the ball by the corner flag. It was hot-headed, reckless, and the visitors could have no excuses.
Cesar brilliantly prevented an own goal from Samba Diakite with a full-stretch save but the hosts finally beat the Brazilian six minutes from time.
Giroud’s initial header was superbly saved by Cesar but the QPR defenders failed to react, the ball finding its way to Arteta, whose headed effort hit the crossbar before he poked home the rebound on the goalline.
QPR responded positively and could have levelled in the dying stages, with Esteban Granero shooting wide before substitute Jamie Mackie was denied from point-blank range by Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone in injury time.
First Published: Sunday, October 28, 2012, 08:36