Premier League, Emirates Stadium – Arsenal 1 (Arteta 84), Queens Park Rangers 0.
Mikel Arteta’s late strike saved Arsenal from a third goalless performance in a row as they beat QPR 1-0 in the Premier League.
The midfielder slammed home from close range in the 84th minute after a goalmouth scramble, ending Arsenal’s barren run of 270 minutes without hitting the net.
The mood at the Emirates Stadium was further lifted by Jack Wilshere’s successful return from injury – the England midfielder completed 67 minutes in his first competitive match after over a year out injured.
QPR will rue Stephane Mbia’s brainless sending off 10 minutes from full-time for kicking out at Thomas Vermaelen, while the visitors squandered two good chances to grab a late equaliser.
Arsene Wenger could not have timed Wilshere’s return better, coming at the end of a turbulent week on and off the pitch.
Defeats against Norwich and Schalke – both without scoring – were followed by a stormy club AGM at which fans accused the club’s board of putting their financial interests above trophies.
Wilshere’s first Arsenal touch since May 22, 2011 was greeted as loudly as a goal, and the early signs suggest he is suffering no ill-effects from his ankle, knee and foot problems.
The 20-year-old completed all 33 of his first-half passes and offered plenty of drive and invention.
But he could not end the Gunners’ goal drought. Aaron Ramsey clipped the top of the bar with a looping header from Bacary Sagna’s fine cross on 10 minutes, before Lukas Podolski fired wide from long range.
QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar nearly offered Arsenal a way through when he spilt Andre Santos’s low cross from the left and Olivier Giroud’s shot from wide on the left – but he later held a rasping Santos effort with Giroud lurking to pounce on any rebound.
Though they did not test Vito Mannone in the Arsenal goal, QPR looked increasingly confident, with Esteban Granero and Junior Hoilett looking particularly composed on the ball.
A fifth consecutive scoreless half brought muted boos that would have been louder if not for Wilshere’s presence.
The second half proved slightly better, but Arsenal met from determined resistance from Julio Cesar.
The Brazilian pushed away a Per Mertesacker header, before making superb saves from Santi Cazorla and Ramsey.
The best stop of the bunch prevented a comical own-goal, as an attempted clearance hit Nedum Onuoha and spun towards goal, only for Julio Cesar to claw it away.
But QPR’s rearguard effort was compromised when Mbia was pushed over by Vermaelen and, after being awarded a free-kick, lashed out pointlessly at the Belgian.
Referee Anthony Taylor, who let a number of suspect challenges go, had no option but to dismiss Mbia.
Julio Cesar was finally beaten six minutes from time after yet another fine save from a Giroud header. The ball pinballed around the box and Arteta headed the ball against the bar before finally tucking away the rebound.
The goal provoked a tumultuous release of tension, but QPR were not finished yet.
A sensational Adel Taarabt ball played Granero through, but the Spaniard dragged his shot wide on 90 minutes.
Then Jamie Mackie nearly produced the goal of the season, running directly at goal and beating three men, but Mannone was equal to his shot.
Mannone also had to tip a Granero free-kick behind in stoppage time, but Arsenal did just enough to end the club’s latest mini-crisis.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal): A sentimental choice, perhaps, but it was immensely heartening to see Wilshere’s touch and vision seemingly unaffected by nearly 18 months out injured.
Arsenal: Mannone 7, Sagna 7, Vermaelen 6, Mertesacker 6, Santos 6, Arteta 7, Wilshere 7, Ramsey 6, Cazorla 6, Podolski 6, Giroud 6; Subs: Walcott 6, Arshavin, Gervinho
QPR: Cesar 7, Mbia 4, Nelsen 6, Traore 6, Bosingwa 5, Diakite 6, Taarabt 7, Wright-Phillips 7, Granero 6, Hoilett 7, Zamora 6; Subs: Cisse, Onuoha 6, Mackie