Jack Wilshere’s promising return from 17 months out looked likely to count for little until Stephane Mbia’s red card invited a late assault which yielded Mikel Arteta’s bundled winner (84).
And after a week which brought back-to-back defeats and a barracking for Arsene Wenger and his board at the club’s AGM, Arteta’s intervention provided a desperately needed morale boost.
It was also enough to keep QPR bottom and without a win, denying Mark Hughes’ side a deserved point which their discipline appeared certain to bring until Mbia’s rash kick at Thomas Vermaelen left them a man short.
In the chaotic climax that followed Arsenal might have had a handful but for Julio Cesar, while Esteban Granero and Jamie Mackie both missed one-on-one opportunities to rescue the draw.
When the dust settles Wenger will reflect on an afternoon which did little to support his theory that Arsenal can challenge for the title, though there was encouragement in the shape of Wilshere’s return.
The England midfielder had been pencilled in for Tuesday’s Capital One Cup tie at Reading, and his inclusion had a hint of expediency given Wenger’s pressing need for a performance to silence the Emirates’ harsher regulars.
The 20-year-old did not disappoint his manager, coming close to a first-half opener with a drop of the shoulder and low 20-yard shot, while Cesar was equally edgy dealing with Olivier Giroud’s ambitious drive.
The goalkeeper was beaten altogether by an Aaron Ramsey header, but the midfielder’s looping attempt from Bacary Sagna’s cross cannoned to safety off the top of the crossbar.
Rangers slowly emerged as an attacking force and, after weathering a fraught second-half spell when Bobby Zamora came close to an own goal and Granero was fortunate to stay on, only a linesman’s offside flag denied Junior Hoilett.
Wilshere succumbed to fatigue as Wenger threw on Theo Walcott, and the substitute’s right-wing centre broke for Santi Cazorla, who fired wastefully high from the penalty spot.
That appeared that, but Mbia’s mindlessness beckoned Arsenal on and when Cesar parried Giroud’s header Arteta – loitering in what looked like an offside position – forced in the rebound at the second attempt.