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Rapid-fire Gunners see off QPR

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SANCHEZ-SPERONILONDON, March 5- Arsenal maintained their push for a Champions League place as two goals in five second-half minutes gave them a 2-1 victory over QPR at Loftus Road on Wednesday.

Arsene Wenger’s men stand on the brink of elimination from Europe’s elite competition after losing their last 16 first leg against Monaco, but they remain on course for a return next season as they clinched their seventh win in eight matches thanks to goals from Oliver Giroud and Alexis Sanchez.

The third placed Gunners, one point ahead of Manchester United, started their first of five games in 17 days in worryingly sluggish form but their attacking weapons eventually came good in the 64th and 69th minute, although Charlie Austin’s drive gave the struggling hosts hope eight minutes from time.

Neither side were able to find any kind of rhythm to their game in the opening exchanges.

QPR’s Brazilian midfielder Sandro returned to action after three and a half months out with a knee injury, and he was instrumental in ensuring Arsenal were not able to maintain fluency in their passing game.

Indeed there was little to entertain in the opening 45 minutes aside from the positive running of Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin and a trio of sweetly-struck shots from Austin.

Gabriel Paulista was making his second Premier League start at the heart of Arsenal’s defence as Wenger looked to use his physicality in nullifying that of Rangers striker Bobby Zamora.

But the former Villarreal defender’s slip on the edge of his area was almost costly, allowing Zamora to tee up Austin for a second stinging drive that Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina held at the second attempt.

Gabriel then limped off to be replaced by Laurent Koscielny, just before Austin inched even closer from distance.

Arsenal finally got their trademark one-touch play going a minute before half-time, with Santi Cazorla jinking his way into the area before forcing a decent save from Robert Green.

But the game did not deserve a goal at half-time and it was difficult to distinguish which side had started the day third from top of the division and which one was third from bottom.

– Creative talents –

Arsenal continued after the break looking alarmingly short on quality for a team possessing the rich creative talents of Sanchez, Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Mesut Ozil.

But just as they were looking bereft of ideas they conjured their opening goal on the break.

Sanchez burst into the area and found Gibbs on the overlap, with Clint Hill’s challenge taking enough pace off Kieran Gibbs’ cross for it to drop invitingly for Giroud to crash in his eighth goal in his last ten league appearances.

From then on it was as if Arsenal had forgotten the previous 63 minutes, as Sanchez went close from the edge of the area before they had their second goal five minutes after their first.

It came about partly due to the inexperience of Rangers right-back Darnell Furlong, 19, and partly due to the brilliance of Sanchez, as he twisted and turned his way into a position to beat Green from a tight angle at his near post.

Green then had to palm a deflected Ozil effort onto the post as the Gunners threatened to run away with the game.

But with time running out, Rangers poured forward and got back into the game when a Matt Phillips pass found Austin to fire in his 15th league goal of the season.

Ultimately it proved a mere consolation for the hosts as they slipped to a sixth defeat in seven matches, leaving them three points adrift of safety.

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