Old Ghosts Haunt QPR
QUEENS Park Rangers have rather inevitably come up just short as discipline and concentration cost them dear against a nervy Arsenal side.
The Gunners seemed to falter at every turn, much to the chagrin of the home support - but a workman-like QPR shot themselves in the foot once more with yet more indiscipline.
Stephane M'Bia was given his marching orders for a wild and sensless hack on Thomas Vermaelen and Rangers' resistance unravelled from there.
Arsenal had knocked on the door with little success throughout the encounter and clearly that cutting edge and guile that remains elusive since the departure of Robin van Persie.
This was the motivation that spurred them on however with Mikel Arteta - offside in the build-up - rounded off a game of pinball to edge a close encounter in the bitter chill of North London.
Mark Hughes made one change from the side that got a point at home to Everton with the injured Park Ji Sung replaced by somewhat of a surprise in Shaun Wright-Phillips. Elsewhere Rangers remained the same in a bid to take points from the Emirates.
Julio Cesar started behind a back four of Jose Bosingwa, Stephane M'Bia, Ryan Nelsen and Armand Traoré. Wright-Phillips, Esteban Granero, Samba Diakité and Adel Taarabt started across the midfield with Junior Hoilett playing off lone forward Bobby Zamora.
Arsenal made three changes from the side that lost at home to Schalke 04 during the week, with long-term absentees Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere along with Olivier Giroud, coming in - Francis Coquelin, Carl Jenkinson and Gervinho dropping out.
Vito Mannone started behind a defence of Sagna, Per Mertersacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Andre Santos. Mikel Arteta, Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey started through the middle with Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski playing off lone forward Giroud.
KICK OFF: ARSENAL v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
It was truly the weather to herald the beginning of winter - a bitter chill was in the air as the players took to the field with the preamble seeing Anton Ferdinand sport a campaign shirt, while others including Shaun Wright-Phillips not following suit.
Wright-Phillips himself was a surprise inclusion, having been dropped against Everton for performances that were bereft of confidence and ideas. Nevertheless he replaced the injured Park Ji Sung on a day of surprise starters.
Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna were thrown back into the line-up in a move that rather felt like desperation after a poor run of form. The home side started brightly - as one would expect against the division's bottom club.
Julio Cesar pulled off an admirable save early on when Andre Santos' centre deflected off Stephane M'Bia - the Brazilian stopper had to be at his best to deny the early effort. But despite having all of the ball Arsenal were relatively quiet in every sense.
Only a brief moment of improvisation from Aaron Ramsey saw his looping header bounce off the top of the bar from a Sagna centre. It was a rare glimpse of class in an otherwise bleak encounter thus far - Rangers contented merely to soak up the pressure.
Podolski fired wide moments later while Cesar did well to field Wilshere's attempt at the second time of asking. It was fairly powderpuff stuff from the home side whose home seemed likewise tepid despite their side having the evident upper hand.
Rangers infuriated their opposition and their own supporters in equal measure, setting themselves up in good areas only to lack that killer instinct to follow. Wright-Phillips looking dangerous only to hit reverse, go sideways or lose the ball.
Bosingwa, getting in fantastic areas and pockets of space, only to deliver a disastrous succession of crosses that had lone forward Zamora having to guess where any cross would land with no real direction or idea behind the attacking threat.
Wright-Phillips' cross-shot was all that Rangers could muster in an opening rather bereft of class or inspiration. Two sides blighted by lack of form and confidence were on edge, nervous and not making for a classic spectacle.
It was not a half to write home about suffice to say, the odd moment of skill from Adel Taarabt, a surging run from Junior Hoilett was somewhat tempered by misplaced passing and individual errors that continued to blight the occasion.
Giroud was afforded a lot of space at times and he engineered a shot towards goal which was fantastically fielded by Cesar once more. The Brazilian once again was called upon to field a low shot by compatriot Santos in a fairly forgettable half of football.
HALF TIME: ARSENAL 0-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The second half saw Arsenal start strongly, putting QPR on the back foot for vast suedes of the opening stanza. The Gunners know little more than to retain the ball - good times or bad a despite creating relatively little in terms of clear cut opportunity.
Ramsey and Arteta seemed to be pulling all of the strings for the home side with Wilshere starting to flag in his first game back from injury. It seemed at times that the Gunners could afford that passenger as they attacked at will with little in riposte from Rangers.
Giroud laboured, but those around him were bright if not decisive. Cazorla was getting marked out of dangerous areas, Podolski was looking a shadow of the player that regularly put England to the sword as the fixture resembled a game of chess.
The home crowd would have been more at home at a chess competition, with little coming from the stands to inspire a side clearly struggling to make that decisive incision into a stubborn Rangers rearguard.
The visiting support was nothing if hardy and jovial - urging their side into some calibre of attacking endeavour, even a sniff of ball retention with Zamora on the day seemingly unable to best Mertersacker and Vermaelen.
Granero was starting to walk a fine light without ever really putting a challenge in. He was booked for a foul on the edge of the area that could hardly even be constituted a challenge, and moments later dangled another tentative leg to send referee Anthony Taylor all a-flutter.
Giroud was booked after wiping out former Gunner Armand Traoré, and rather surprisingly the Senegalese international raised the ire of his former support despite admirably trying to continue, all rather baffling considering their lack of noise to this point.
Hughes and Wenger reacted very differently to the injury. The Arsenal boss took the opportunity to withdraw the cramping Wilshere and throw on Theo Walcott against the wounded full-back - Hughes meanwhile paused for thought.
Walcott was given the ball at every attempt and Traoré laboured, winced and tried to run off a complaint that clearly wasn't improved - still Hughes delayed a decision to withdraw the full-back as the hosts continued to press.
Gervinho came on for the ineffectual Podolski - playing in his favoured position wide of the front-man. Fully ten minutes after Traoré's injury, Hughes acted. Nedum Onuoha came on in his stead while Zamora was once again sacrificed with Djibril Cissé coming on.
Once again in a winnable encounter Hughes elected to maintain status quo in terms of attacking options. A solitary striker and a winger in Wright-Phillips that seemed to be largely out of his depth against a defender in Santos who is said to be having a disastrous run of form.
The man of the moment however was Cazorla, who missed a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock. Walcott's cross was half-cleared by M'Bia to fall to the Spaniard on the edge of the six-yard box who could only fire high, wide and handsome with the goal at his mercy.
Wright-Phillips was withdrawn kindly by Hughes after another poor game - despite giving spadefuls of effort. Jamie Mackie was thrown on and was a bat out of hell from the off, but it couldn't mask a moment of stupidity that would ultimately put QPR on the back foot.
Vermaelen barged M'Bia over by the corner flag for a foul - the Frenchman responded by swiping an ill-advised foot out at the Belgian. Despite not making contact it was a dangerous and moreover foolish thing to do and Hughes can have little complaint.
Cue Cesar the incredible. The 'keeper saved effort after effort to infuriate the home side and further bolster the hopes of the visitors. The pick of the bunch denied a deflected Ramsey effort which he managed to turn around the post.
The Brazilian pulled one back from the line at point-blank range to further the disbelief among both sets of supporters, but could do little more that defy the odds when persistently called upon in the latter stages.
Six minutes from time the decisive blow was struck - Giroud's header forced an unbelievable save from Cesar and MIKEL ARTETA
coming back from an offside position engineered an effort that came back off the cross bar.
He was well-placed to power home the rebound from close range to condemn QPR and further compound the foolishness of the normally rock-steady M'Bia. Rangers however started to press and attempt to create something from nothing.
Granero did well to latch onto a fine through ball from Taarabt - who himself had put in a sterling team display - the Spaniard shot wide from just inside the area, failing to test the underworked Mannone.
Mannone was certainly being worked now however. Mackie rather underlined his claim for a first team place as he surged through a static defence to bear down on goal. Hs low shot was excellently saved by Mannone as the afternoon ebbed away from the forlorn visitors.
Only a well-guided free kick from Granero was deflected just wide of the left hand upright in order to poise the game for a grand-stand finale. It did not however gift the QPR supporters that moment of ecstasy, as the fixture ended with Arsenal the victors.
Food for thought once again in a display that perhaps deserved a little more, but indiscipline and stupidity rendered Rangers losers on the day and firmly rooted to the bottom of the top flight. Green shoots of recovery maybe, but old habits die hard.
FULL TIME: ARSENAL 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS