Alexis Sánchez celebrates scoring Arsenal’s second goal in the Premier League game against QPR. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
“It’s hot up there,” said Arsène Wenger as he surveyed the scene at the top end of the Premier League, with everyone winning their midweek outings. There is currently no margin for error and after an uninspired opening Arsenal duly pulled themselves together to collect another three points with unerring finishes from Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sánchez.
In a game littered with chances, the difference boiled down to finishing – and Arsenal were ruthless enough to secure the points needed to keep them ahead of the pack in the hunt for Champions League requalification.
Down the bottom end of the table, QPR were left feeling the chill. Chris Ramsey appeared to be hurting as he rued manful efforts unrewarded. They put a huge amount of industry into a first half they dominated, both in terms of possession and chances. It came to nothing once Arsenal moved up a gear. Endeavour is not much consolation when you are in the basement, knocking on a trapdoor that is not easily opened back up. “I am sick for the players, sick we have not got anything out of the game,” Ramsey lamented.
High tension and high stakes coursed through this meeting of top four chasers versus relegation facers and it was to QPR’s credit that they attacked their predicament – and Arsenal – head on. The gameplan, to harass and press their opponents, and shoot on sight whenever a sniff of an opportunity presented itself, gave them encouragement. The momentum kept building with every tackle from the steel in midfield, in the shape of Karl Henry and the returning Sandro, with every heartfelt run from Bobby Zamora, every thwacked shot unleashed by Charlie Austin.
Wenger admitted it made Arsenal nervous. David Ospina was worked on several occasions as QPR peppered his goal. Austin was at the heart of it all. He produces such power on his sudden efforts and shows such bloody-minded determination to send the ball hurtling goalwards.
Chastened, perhaps, by some words at half-time, Arsenal began with far more energy after the break, with the evergreen Tomas Rosicky pepping up his team almost single-handed. One dazzling run, and a firm volley saved by Rob Green, epitomised how Arsenal bucked up their ideas. Suddenly there was more zip and fluency, and more influence from the big guns.
The breakthrough came from a counterattack. Mesut Özil and Sánchez carried the move forwards and when Kieran Gibbs joined in from left-back his deflected effort was turned in by Giroud, in the right place to pop the ball past Green at the near post. The Frenchman, after playing so poorly against Monaco last week, has recovered to make the difference with the first goal in two successive league games.
Emboldened, Arsenal searched for more. Sánchez twice had fine chances in quick succession and at the third attempt he drove into the box and deceived Green with another instinctive shot at the near post. The Chilean was elated to rediscover his taste for goals after a seven-game drought. It also put to bed the theory that Sánchez and Özil, Arsenal’s two most luxurious buys, do not particularly mix. It was a quirk of recent matches that Sanchez, so prolific in the first half of the season, had lost his eye for goal since the return of the languid assists man. “When you don’t score for seven or eight games it is on your mind, even if you say it isn’t,” said Wenger. “He never gives up.”
It was a galling setback for QPR and for Ramsey it illustrated how frustratingly games can tilt in favour of the elite. “Scoring goals is always the hardest thing and that is why the top teams are top,” he said. “When they are not playing well they come up with two goals. They would probably admit that was not one of their stellar performances. You end up in the situation we are in now because we are probably relying too much on Charlie’s efforts. There are not too many goals from other areas of the pitch. For all that effort, we have ended up with no points.”
Özil came close to adding to the scoreline, striking a post, and the next intervention infused QPR with unexpected hope as Austin finally found his range to swivel and shoot past Ospina but they could find no more.
Ramsey concluded it was “imperative” for QPR to pick up a win soon. He remains a realist: “When I embarked on this situation I didn’t think it would be a walk in the park.”