Robin van Persie registered his 35th Premier League goal in 2011 as Arsenal overcame QPR to go fourth in the table.
Van Persie missed four chances in a first half that also saw Aaron Ramsey's shot cleared off the line by Joey Barton.
Theo Walcott missed a fine chance after the break but Van Persie struck with a low finish from Andrey Arshavin's pass.
He passed Thierry Henry's club scoring record for a year but finished one shy of Alan Shearer's all-time mark.
The former England striker scored 36 for Blackburn Rovers in 1995.
Van Persie ends 2011 with 50 goals in all competitions but far more important to his team were the three points.
They take Arsenal above Liverpool and Chelsea into the final Champions League spot for the first time this season.
By contrast, QPR drop to 17th - just two points above the relegation zone - and their winless run extends to seven games.
Much of the pre-match talk surrounded , which is likely to be finalised by the end of the weekend.
How the Gunners could have done with their record goalscorer for much of this match.
After a lethargic start that saw Jay Bothroyd and Shaun Wright-Phillips go close for QPR, Arsenal spent the rest of the half encamped in opposition territory.
But they lacked the sort of killer instinct that brought Henry 226 goals in 370 appearances before he joined Barcelona in 2007.
It took them 15 minutes to muster an opening on any note, Van Persie turning a couple of men before shooting straight at Radek Cerny from a tight angle.
Soon after, Van Persie steered a header wide after escaping his marker to meet a Ramsey cross and then poked over the bar after wriggling past Luke Young.
QPR boss Neil Warnock had quipped that his side were "going to have to try and board the goal up" and the plan came to fruition.
An out-of-sorts Theo Walcott prodded tentatively across goal when well-placed just a few yards out and Van Persie volleyed over after being sent clear by Thomas Vermaelen.
As Arsenal continued to flood forward, Ramsey saw a volley headed off the line by Barton and a Mikel Arteta drive was punched away by Cerny.
Amid all of that, the hosts were furious with referee Martin Atkinson after he turned down two penalty appeals - Young and Barton appeared to handle inside the box - and accidentally cautioned Vermaelen for a foul committed by Laurent Koscielny.
However, Vermaelen would not have to worry about being sent off - shortly after half-time he limped off to give manager Arsene Wenger yet another defensive injury concern.
Arsenal's response was positive and they should have taken the lead when Walcott latched on to Ramsey's through-ball, only to drag wide when one-on-one with Cerny.
Walcott's blushes would be spared four minutes later, when the ever-reliable Van Persie produced his landmark strike.
Wright-Phillips relinquished possession to Ramsey in midfield and he fed the otherwise-poor Arshavin, who played Van Persie in for a first-time finish low past Cerny.
Taking the lead seemed to fill Arsenal with nerves and Wojciech Szczesny had to save well from Adel Taarabt before an unmarked Matthew Connolly volleyed over.
Arsene Wenger managed to tip the balance by introducing Gervinho and Tomas Rosicky, and both men - as well as Ramsey and Van Persie - squandered opportunities to double the advantage.
In the end, Arsenal were grateful for the one goal they had and, especially, their talismanic captain.