After a pedestrian first 45 minutes from Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud were on hand to secure an important away win for Arsenal. Arsenal remain in 3rd thanks to Wednesday night’s gritty away performance. The victory away to 18th place QPR was vital for the Gunners as Manchester United, Tottenham, Southampton and Liverpool all collected midweek wins.
If Arsenal thought they were in for an easy night, QPR erased those thoughts early in the match. They gave Arsenal all they could handle and were at times unfortunate not to receive more for their efforts. For much of the first half the physical play of QPR’s forward duo of Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora gave Arsenal plenty to think about. The route 1 style of play not only put Arsenal’s back line under heavy pressure, but allowed QPR to press high up the field and disrupt any attempt by Arsenal to find a rhythm.
Efforts from Austin and Matthew Phillips showed that QPR meant business as they pressed for an opening goal. QPR sensed they had the upper hand early and with the home crowd behind them looked to put the ball into the Arsenal penalty box at every opportunity.
Arsenal, with goalkeeper David Ospina along with center backs Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny (who replaced the injured Gabriel) soaked up the pressure and kept Arsenal level heading into the break.
Arsenal looked like a different team at the start of the 2nd half and should have been awarded a penalty. Thomas Rosicky did well to pick out a cross for Mesut Ozil who was hauled down in the penalty area by Karl Henry. Henry was lucky that referee Kevin Friend did not spot the incident as it surely would have been a penalty and a 2nd yellow for the QPR midfielder.
Arsenal continued to ramp up the pressure from all angles with Alexis frequently find space wide on left and youngster Hector Bellerin streaming forward from his right back position. Centrally, Santi Cazorla and Ozil began to find holes in the QPR defense and Arsenal could sense that a goal was not far away.
The breakthrough for Arsenal came in the 64th minute from a lethal counter attack. It began deep in the Arsenal end with Cazorla and Ozil starting the move. Eventually the ball found its way to Alexis on the left. Kieran Gibbs bombed forward to provide an overlap and the English defender’s eventual cross was deflected, but on hand to sweep the ball home from close range was Giroud. It was Giroud’s 5th goal in his last 7 Premier League matches, and his 2nd in as many games. It appears that the Frenchman has put the Monaco debacle behind him.
It was not long after that Alexis should have grabbed the second after his pressure created a turnover which saw him through on goal. QPR keeper Rob Green did extremely well to stifle Alexis and keep his side in the match.
But the Chilean was not to be denied. As he had done previously in the match, he drove at QPR’s young right back, Darnell Furlong and cut in from the left onto his favorite right foot. This time though, Alexis’ accurate, low drive fizzed past Green just inside the near post. It was exactly what Arsenal’s 2nd half performance had merited. For Alexis there was a huge sigh of relief, as the goal broke his 7 match scoreless streak. The goal also gave the Gunners a 2 goal cushion which they desperately needed.
After their 2nd goal, Arsenal looked to be in cruise control, but in typical Arsenal fashion they conceded a late goal. A brilliant Charlie Austin turn and finish form 18 yards narrowed the gap. From a defensive standpoint, between Gibbs on Koscielny there seemed to be a hesitation on their part to close down QPR’s main man. Gibbs backed off in order to cover the width and Koscielny was slow to read the situation. The miscommunication between the pair provided Austin with time to turn and his cracking strike cut Arsenal’s lead in half.
Austin’s 82nd minute strike meant Arsenal supporters were made to sweat, but Arsenal held firm to claim a vital 3 points. As a whole, it could only be described as an even match with both sides creating a number of quality chances. Fortunately for Arsenal, their quality in execution was the difference between the two sides.
It was another unconvincing win which will create some worry amongst Arsenal supporters. Solid performances from Alexis, Bellerin and Francis Coquelin will be seen as positives. But ultimately, it took Arsenal almost a full half to gain dominance in the game. A similar performance against Manchester United next Monday in the FA Cup could yield an unfriendly result for the Gunners.