Mikel Arteta's late goal gave Arsenal a much-needed 1-0 win over struggling QPR on Saturday at the Emirates Stadium, where England midfielder Jack Wilshere returned for the Gunners after more than a year on the sidelines.
Arsenal had endured a difficult spell following the international break with successive defeats at Norwich and Schalke preceding a heated annual general meeting on Thursday.
It was, though, far from a vintage Arsenal display against a hard-working QPR side, who owed much to an inspired performance by goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The Brazilian was finally beaten by Arteta's scrambled effort with eight minutes left after QPR full-back Stephane Mbia had been sent off for kicking out at Gunners defender Thomas Vermaelen.
"I am very happy with the result because we lost two big games in our head, and the confidence was a bit jaded," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. "We were serious, we moved the ball quite well and we needed to be patient. It was important not to make a mistake, and wait for our chance and take it."
Wilshere's previous Arsenal league appearance came in May 2011 and he missed the whole of the 2011-12 campaign with niggling ankle and knee problems, which ruled him out of Euro 2012 and the London Olympics.
"I made the decision (to play Wilshere) without telling him because when you have not played for such long time it is not always easy to deal with that and there is a high level of expectation when he goes on the pitch," said Wenger. "I told him he was playing at 10:30 a.m. today. Sometimes I think it is better when you don't have much time to think about it when you have been out for a long time. I also felt the confidence of the team was a bit jaded and sometimes player with experience and quality give a bit of a lift as well."
The 20-year-old's first touch Saturday afternoon was greeted by huge cheers around the stadium, and it was a positive start by the hosts.
"You could see technically he is there, and he gave everything, but what is missing he will get through competition," said Wenger of Wilshere. "Jack still misses a bit of the pace of the game, the rhythm of the game, but overall what he did was class."
Mbia diverted Andre Santos' low cross goalwards, which Cesar cleared with his legs.
In the 10th minute, a looping header from Aaron Ramsey dropped onto the top of the crossbar.
There was almost a dream return for Wilshere when he collected the ball in midfield and charged to the edge of the QPR penalty area before drilling in a low, left-foot shot which Cesar spilled but then collected as Santi Cazorla looked for a rebound.
QPR, still without a Premier League away win and bottom of the table, looked dangerous on the counterattack, especially through Shaun Wright-Phillips, who stretched Santos at every opportunity.
Wilshere then fed Santos out on the left, and the Brazilian cut back inside but curled a tame effort at Cesar.
At the start of the second half, there was a moment of concern when QPR midfielder Esteban Granero stood on Wilshere's foot and left the England man on the floor. He hobbled off for some treatment but was able to rejoin the action.
"We have to see how he responds," said Wenger of Wilshere. "After such a long time out, it goes a bit up and down. What is good is that he got kicked today and had no problem. The rest will come with the games. Now, after a game like that, I will certainly not play him on Tuesday (against Reading in the Capital One Cup). Will I play him (at Manchester United) next week? I don't know."
In the 50th minute, a floated free-kick from Arteta into the QPR penalty area was headed goalward by Per Mertesacker, but Cesar made a good save at full stretch.
At the other end, Junior Hoilett put the ball in the Arsenal net, chipping Gunners goalkeeper Vito Mannone, but play had already been stopped by an offside flag against three QPR players.
The match was becoming an increasingly scrappy affair, as referee Anthony Taylor struggled to keep order following a series of free kicks.
With 25 minutes left, Wilshere was replaced by Theo Walcott and left the field to a standing ovation from the home support.
Podolski then came off for Gervinho as Wenger looked to inject some pace down the flanks.
The best opening of the game fell to Cazorla after good work from Walcott down the right, but the Spaniard, who had been so impressive before the international break, blasted the ball over from 12 yards.
QPR was reduced to 10 men with 10 minutes left when Mbia was shown a red card for kicking out at Vermaelen after he had been fouled by the Gunners skipper.
QPR manager Mark Hughes was less than impressed by the red card.
"We were given the initial free kick, obviously Stephane doesn't know this and he swung his leg out and there is minimal contact," he said. "Vermaelen is obviously going to make the most of it and he did. The referee deemed it warranted a sending off, if there was contact it is a red card and we have to accept that -- but at that stage it was hard to take because I felt we were in total control of the game."
Gervinho picked up an injury, and was taken down the tunnel on a stretcher. He was replaced by Andrey Arshavin.
QPR continued to defend bravely, as Cesar clawed a deflected clearance onto the post.
The visitors' resolve, however, was finally broken in the 84th minute.
Arteta bundled the ball in after Giroud's header was saved superbly by Cesar and the Spaniard's follow-up header hit the crossbar.
Hughes felt Arsenal's goal was offside.
"I have seen the replay, Arteta is offside twice, on the initial header that Julio saves and in the melee he comes back from an offside position and scored," Hughes said. "How the referee hasn't given offside, I don't know. We have gone in and asked for an explanation and he has come up with some explanation about Ryan Nelsen leaving the field of play so that played everybody onside. I have no idea what he is going on about, but that's what you're up against."
Ramsey's shot was pushed wide by the impressive QPR keeper, who also denied Cazorla as Arsenal continued to press in the closing stages.
Mannone saved from QPR substitute Jamie Mackie in stoppage time to secure a welcome victory for Wenger's battle-weary Gunners.
Information from Press Association was used in this report.