Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers came into Saturday afternoon's match on separate ends of the Barclays Premier League table, but that didn't stop the home side from posing a huge threat to the Gunners' bid for a Champions League berth.
A Theo Walcott goal in the first 30 seconds of play at Loftus Road held up through the entirety of a match that some expected to be a blowout in the early stages. The Gunners were able to capture a huge 1-0 victory.
The EPL's Twitter account helped provide the final tally for another tough loss for the home fans at Loftus Road:
Premier League @premierleague
FULL-TIME QPR 0-1 Arsenal. Relief at the end for the Gunners as Theo Walcott's goal earns a slender win. #QPRARS http://t.co/VAMqtAgIMk5/4/2013, 6:20:45 PM
Walcott's early goal was the fastest Premier League netter this season, and Arsenal was able to get off to a brilliant start inside 30 seconds after Mikel Arteta set up his teammate in the box for the early score.
The team's Twitter account then celebrated:
Arsenal FC @Arsenal
GOAL FOR ARSENAL! Theo Walcott scores after just 15 seconds to give Arsenal the lead! 0-1. #QPRvAFC5/4/2013, 4:31:31 PM
The goal was Walcott's 13th in EPL play this season and a huge start for the away side with the events of the Tottenham win pushing Arsenal for all three points of this game.
As noted by Paul Carr of ESPN, Walcott's quick goal also registered on an all-time level:
Paul Carr @PCarrESPN
ESPN UK says Walcott's goal is the 12th-fastest in the Premier League era.5/4/2013, 4:38:25 PM
After the goal, the wind came out of the home side's sails. Arsenal thoroughly dominated the ball for the majority of the first half, and Walcott just missed a goal that would have given the Gunners a 2-0 advantage on the right post in the middle stages of the first half.
There was little defensive pressure from the Rangers at midfield or when Arsenal was able to work the ball in on an attack, and it was all Clint Hill (who played a brilliant game in the back end) and the rest of the QPR defenders could do to thwart the early Gunners chances.
Then, towards the end of the first half, things shifted.
Queens Park managed to start attacking in the latter stages of the first half, carrying that momentum well into the first part of the second period. Arsenal either fell asleep or QPR came alive, but no matter the cause, the home side had something to cheer about down only one goal with nothing but pride to play for.
Andros Townsend, Loic Remy and Bobby Zamora all mounted charges on the attack on the outer half for the Rangers, but goaltender Wojciech Szczesny was superb for Arsenal and had several one-handed stabs to keep things level in the second half.
The Gunners managed to get back to their early-half form in the late stages of the second half, much to Arsene Wegner's chagrin. His club needed this victory. After looking like the Gunners were going to pick up an easy win after the early goal, the lack of an attack in the mid-stages kept this one close until full time.
The Rangers managed to keep things interesting and also made the Gunners pay for only putting up one goal in the first half, something that almost came back to bite the away side before Szczesny kept things level and the attackers managed to make a late push.
With Saturday's match in the books, QPR can get back to the drawing board to improve for next season, but they have some positives to take away from a valiant, prideful effort to thwart Arsenal in their battle for fourth place in the EPL table.
Let's take a look at some grades from Arsenal's win.
Theo Walcott, Arsenal: B
After the early goal helped set the stage, Walcott was mostly a non-factor in the latter stages of the match.
He managed to come alive down the stretch, but in the middle part of the game, he was only a decoy as Arsenal could mount any sort of attack from their front line and test goalkeeper Robert Green.
Walcott gets a nice mark for a goal that ended up being the difference, but he missed two or three more chances to add some much-needed cushion to the tally and skated by in a match that Wegner's club could not afford to lose.
Tal Ben Haim, QPR: A-
Tal Ben Haim didn't do a lot on Saturday, but his effort in the second half helped ignite the crowd and give QPR a fighting chance to both salvage this game for themselves and the fans.
He was all over the pitch, chasing down three-straight attackers at one point in the back end. Although his aggressive style led to some Arsenal runs, he was a clear positive for the home side.
Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal: A
The Arsenal keeper came up with a huge save in the 82nd minute off the foot of Remy to keep the score in Arsenal's favor, his biggest stop in an otherwise impressive performance with Queens Park pushing hard.
He also managed to get rid of a nice corner cross from Townsend and another free kick from the right-hand side, and his performance helped Arsenal avoid a disaster at the hands of the last-place Rangers.
Park Ji-Sung, QPR: C+
Park was a player in position to make a lot happen in the box for the Rangers, but he failed to capitalize in the first half and didn't do much to atone for his poor play in the second half, either.
He mishit a ball over the net in the first half in a great position to tie the score, slipping to the ground in the process, while also being unable to provide a spark in terms of his passing to teammates in position to score.
Park did have some nice lobs over the top to help the Rangers be in position to score, but his chances at the net were some of the best of the day, and he faltered down the stretch when QPR needed one last spark to put it over the top.
Follow Ethan Grant on Twitter @downtownEG
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