Theo Walcott’s 20th goal of the season gave Arsenal a 1-0 win at QPR that puts them third in the Premier League – for now.
With less than half a minute on the clock, Walcott scored his 13th Premier League goal of the season but that was as good as it got for the Gunners who, while dominating possession, toiled for much of a tepid encounter.
QPR were little better, although they went closest to scoring in the second half when Loic Remy was denied by a fantastic Wojciech Szczesny save.
But the Gunners held on for a victory that puts them third, although Chelsea face Manchester United on Sunday, after which they will have a game in hand, as do Tottenham in fifth.
Arsenal got off to a blistering start when Walcott latched on to Mikel Arteta’s through ball, turning sharply before thrashing a low finish in off the post via Rob Green.
Tomas Rosicky was excellent in the build-up, which was more than could be said for the home defence, which appeared to have a collective foot still in the tunnel – after all, there were only 20 seconds on the clock.
But the match soon went flat as Arsenal seemed content to hog possession, while QPR lacked the drive and ambition to really threaten the visitors.
There was an upturn in tempo just before the half-hour mark, as Green brilliantly kept out Walcott in a move eerily similar to the goal. This time the post came to his rescue as his team-mates cleared the loose ball.
Ji-sung Park, having not played in three weeks and not started a match for two months, was a surprising inclusion in the XI, but his record against Arsenal when at Manchester United may have swayed Harry Redknapp.
He fired a couple of efforts on goal, one flying over and one deflected wide, while Andros Townsend hit a free-kick just past the post as QPR improved going into half-time.
The hosts continued their mini-revival after the break as threatening balls from the lively Townsend had Szczesny scrambling at times.
On one occasion the on-loan Tottenham midfielder sent a rasping, swerving drive on goal that the Polish keeper did well just to keep his eye on and punch clear, although Szczesny was more comfortable in dealing with a low strike from the previously quiet Loic Remy.
QPR were asking all the questions now as Arsenal continued to slack off, but a series of testing balls from wide positions did not yield too many chances of note.
The visitors were feeding off scraps, Green untested in the half until comfortably saving from Laurent Koscielny just after the hour mark.
That signalled a change in the tide as Arsenal regained their confidence with the ball, controlling possession better as Green saved smartly from Santi Cazorla and Walcott again.
Bobby Zamora had a penalty appeal correctly waved away after he went down easily under Laurent Koscielny’s challenge, a moment which signalled another switch in momentum as QPR started to ask the questions again.
Watching Arsenal hang on to a lead is a painful experience, whoever the opposition, and they needed Szczesny to be at his agile best as he dived low to the right to brilliantly tip away a first-time drive from Remy.
But they did manage to shut the game down, holding on for a vital if unspectacular victory that puts them in a good position to claim Champions League football.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Theo Walcott (Arsenal) – A difficult decision in a poor match, but his well-taken goal and general liveliness was noteworthy.
QPR: Green 6, Traore 6, Hill 6, Onouha 6, Ben Haim 6, Mbia 5, Jenas 6, Park 6, Townsend 7, Remy 6, Zamora 5. Subs: Derry 6, Taarabt 6, Fabio NA
ARSENAL: Szczesny 7, Sagna 6, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 6, Monreal 5, Rosicky 7, Arteta 7, Ramsey 6, Cazorla 6, Podolski 6, Walcott 7. Subs Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Vermaelen NA, Wilshere NA