Queens Park Rangers 0 Arsenal 1

Theo Walcott took all of 20 seconds to grab what was to prove to be the winner against an already relegated Queens Park Rangers. It was the Premiership’s quickest goal of the season and matches Arsenal’s quickest ever club goal netted by Gilberto away at PSV Eindhoven eleven years ago. The Gunners’ first league win at Loftus Road ensures Arsenal’s momentum in an eight Premiership match unbeaten run keeps going, and crucially lifts the Gunners into third place on 67 points, with only a home game against Wigan and a final day trip to Newcastle remaining.

Wenger applauds Walcott's quickest Premiership goal which sunk Rangers - Listen

 

It was Walcott’s 20th goal of the season, and came on the back of the Gunners’ striker’s opener in last Sunday’s home draw against Manchester United at the Emirates. Rangers had chances to get something from this game, with Loic Remy denied a late leveller though the fine stretching low save from Wojciech Szczesny. The near three thousand Arsenal fans packed into the away end of this ramshackle west London venue reminded the beleaguered Harry Redknapp of a relationship that is consistently bad. Lest they forget that the current Rangers’ manager – who has declared his intention to stay and try to get his side back into the top flight at the first time of asking – was by his own admission, brought up as an Arsenal fan!

On a poor surface designed to stifle any visiting team’s passing game, Wenger kept Jack Wilshere on the substitute’s bench and remained true to his word of not wanting to overuse his England midfielder for fear of another injury setback. Olivier Giroud continued his three game ban, but should return for the trip to St. James’ Park where he may well be needed against a Newcastle side too close to the drop zone and in real danger of joining Rangers next season.

Arsenal’s lead looked to be the perfect platform from which Redknapp would have feared would be an avalanche of goals. Right from the kick off, and with only former Gunner Armand Traore’s header Arsenal assumed any early lead. Lukas Podolski, Thomas Rosicky worked the ball out wide, with Mikel Arteta’s slide rule pass finding Walcott unmarked and placing the ball neatly in off Robert Green. With possibly the worst start imaginable, Rangers tried to dig deep, but could never get to the pass and movement from Santi Cazorla, with Arteta and Aaron Ramsey adding an element of steel to the Arsenal midfield. It is the defensive pairing of Per Mertersacker and Laurent Koscielny which continues to thrive, leaving club captain Thomas Vermaelen wondering what he has to do to return to the starting eleven. With Nacho Monreal and Bacary Sagna, adding another dimension going forwards, there seems to be an element of the clean sheet phenomenon returning for Wenger’s men. Remy and the canny Bobby Zamora will testify to that fact.

Wenger has been on record on his thoughts for a bad pitch – they never produce good games, and here we’ll recall Walcott’s 20-second strike, the three points, and perhaps not much else.

“The pitch did not help. But we did not give many chances away. Overall we played a little bit conscious that points were vital and we could not make any mistake. It was detrimental to our offensive game but we had a sound defensive game today, “ observed Wenger, who was quick to praise the home side despite their relegation confirmation under Redknapp.

“I believe that QPR are a better team than people expect. We scored early and started well. After that, QPR played with quality and pride. They were fearless. You could see that this side had played with special pressure and fear in recent months. They had the quality to stay in the Premier League and they made life difficult for us. We had good determination and focus. We lacked a few final balls in the final third. But I expected a difficult game and I was not disappointed. Sometimes when a team goes down they played well in the game after and win. You could see that as Reading won away from home. We need a special focus to win this game.”

We learned that Walcott had set himself a personal goal target of 20 goals, and his manager was the first to praise his striker’s achievement.
“He is 24 now. He’s a mature player. He has improved his finishing. He has improved his ability to resist to pressure from the opponent. It was a similar goal to the one he scored on Sunday against Man. United.”

With both Chelsea and Spurs due to meet at Stamford Bridge next week, Wenger knows that he can only continue to demand the best from his side. In perhaps the most challenging of all his Premiership campaigns, Arsenal manager knows that another six points from the final two Premiership matches will go a long way to ensure Champions League football at the Emirates next season.