MIKEL Arteta’s 84th-minute strike handed Arsenal a 1-0 win over ten-man QPR at the Emirates Stadium.
The home side enjoyed vast amounts of possession throughout this contest – which appeared to be heading for a stalemate thanks to a stout defensive display from the visitors – before Arteta finished from close range after his original effort struck the crossbar.
Rangers were down to 10 men at that stage after Stephane Mbia was shown a straight red card after clashing with Thomas Vermaelen in the 79th minute, but despite their numerical disadvantage, the visitors did enjoy chances to earn a point.
Esteban Granero fired wide after Adel Taarabt’s sublime ball over the top of the hosts’ defence, while substitute Jamie Mackie missed a glorious close-range chance towards the death.
R's boss Mark Hughes was forced into one change for the short trip across the capital, with the injured Ji-Sung Park (knee) replaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Julio Cesar was in goal, behind a back four of Jose Bosingwa, Mbia, skipper for the afternoon Ryan Nelsen and former Arsenal left-back, Armand Traore.
Rangers, who began in a 4-4-1-1 formation, kept faith in a central midfield pairing of Samba Diakite and Granero, while Wright-Phillips and Taarabt manned the flanks.
Junior Hoilett – who scored in last weekend’s 1-1 home draw with Everton – was joined by Bobby Zamora in attack.
Arsenal were boosted by the returns of long-term injury victims Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere.
Home fans’ favourite Wilshere was in the thick of the play after just five minutes, seeing a low centre somehow flash across the face of goal without a touch.
The Gunners enjoyed a wealth of possession in the opening stanza and Cesar was forced into action for the first time on nine minutes, with Andre Santos’ cross – that deflected off Mbia – seeing the visiting goalkeeper produce a smart parry.
Arsenal went even closer soon after, with Aaron Ramsey’s looping header from a Sagna centre crashing off the top of the bar before going over.
Lukas Podolski dragged an effort wide from distance on 12 minutes, before Cesar was again forced into another stop seven minutes later, catching Wilshere’s low 25-yard drive at the second attempt.
It took Rangers a while to feel their way into the contest but they did with every first-half minute that passed – even though Hughes’ men has little to show for it by the way of clear-cut chances.
The visitors’ first real effort of note came on 24 minutes, with Mbia, Bosingwa and Wright-Phillips all combining before the latter a shot wide.
At the other end, Cesar fashioned a fine save on the half-hour mark, flinging to his left to superbly tip Olivier Giroud’s curling effort wide.
The R’s custodian was also on hand to save comfortably from Santos’ tame effort on the stroke of half-time.
Cesar was regularly on hand to thwart Arsenal in the opening period and the Brazilian shot-stopper was at it again soon after the break, saving well after Per Mertesaker met a Arteta free-kick.
Chances were few and far between in the second half, with Rangers having to make do with large spells without the ball.
The atmosphere inside the Emirates was relatively mute until a challenge on Traore seemed to spark the crowd into life.
In fact, it did QPR too, with Wright-Phillips seeing his cross cut out when the waiting Zamora was in prime position to head home, while Sagna executed a terrific challenge to stop Hoilett running through on goal.
Hughes decided to freshen things up with just over a quarter of an hour left on the clock, with Nedum Onuoha replacing Traore – who picked up a knock – and Zamora making way for Djibril Cisse.
Arsenal missed the chance of the match soon after. Theo Walcott’s cross was cleared by Mbia only as far as Santi Cazorla, who somehow managed to fire over with the goal at his mercy.
Wright-Phillips was replaced by Mackie in the 79th minute but Rangers’ chances were dealt a huge blow only a minute later, with Mbia dismissed after clashing with Vermaelen.
That saw the Gunners stream forward at every possible opportunity and Cesar was soon made to pull off a fantastic reaction save after a ball into the box deflected goal-wards off substitute Onuoha.
But despite his best attempts, there was nothing the R’s 'keeper could do to prevent the home side from taking the lead six minutes from time.
First Giroud saw his header acrobatically saved by Cesar, before Arteta rattled the bar with an effort from the loose ball.
Arteta, however, didn’t pass when given a second opportunity from the rebound, prodding home from close range to hand the home side the initiative.
The excellent Cesar produced further fine saves soon after but it was Rangers who could have levelled on more than one occasion in the dying minutes.
Granero – albeit on the stretch – should have done better when freed by Taarabt, while Mackie – after hustling his way past a whole host of challenges – shot straight at Vito Mannone from point-blank range.
Former Real Madrid ace Granero also saw a free-kick tipped around the post deep into stoppage time – but it just wasn’t to be for Rangers.