Arsenal took another 3 points on the road as the race for CL spots look to go down to the wire. Prior to this win, QPR had drawn thrice and beaten Arsenal twice in Premier League history at Loftus Road. Even though QPR had already been relegated, Reading (also relegated) showed that such teams should not be easily written off after their 4-2 win against Fulham just before Arsenal’s game. The string of results Arsenal have built since the Munich win (7 wins and 2 draws) is impressive but the performance today left much to be desired.
Arsenal got off to a blistering start with Walcott netting the fastest goal of the season at 15 seconds. It is also possibly the fastest ever goal in Arsenal history. This is the third time this season that Theo has notched very early goals. He scored against Everton away and United at home under 2 minutes to give the Gunners early leads.
This is the third time this season that Theo has notched very early goals.
Arsenal looked threatening early on as QPR was forced on the backfoot with Cazorla, Rosicky and Sagna providing the main attacking options. Walcott had a chance to make it 2-0 but his shot ricochet off the post back into play only for QPR to clear. Arsenal was on the front foot but bar the two goal scoring incidents, nothing much came off our tremendous possession. Balls were being pinged between the right and left channel with no clear options to send a threatening pass into the final third. We didn’t try any crosses because Podolski was not in position in the box and we did not have Giroud’s height. To be fair, with Giroud, our crosses were terrible as well. And so, in what is becoming a common occurrence, QPR boarded up the center channel and forced us to play mind numbing passes around their box. Nothing came off it.
With the early Arsenal threat nullified, QPR began to take a bolder approach making quick counter attacks down both flanks. Because we pushed 5-6 players upfront to unlock their defense to no avail, they were able to cut through quickly with lesser men in the middle. However, none of the QPR players had shooting boots on with their only shot on target coming from Park that was deflected out for a corner. QPR and Arsenal shared some set pieces but none of them came close to doing any damage.
The first half ended flatly with QPR gaining in confidence and Arsenal frustrated in offence.
QPR started off where they left in the second half. They were more direct and Townsend was their most potent outlet in attack. Monreal had trouble keeping up with his pace and was rightly booked for a desperate attempt to hold the winger back. QPR spent the first 15 minutes of the half knocking at the Arsenal’s door. The defence held firm as there were no clear cut chances bar a long range effort from Townsend that Szczesny punched clear.
Arsenal began to regain control after the initial flurry of QPR dominance. Ramsey and Arteta kept the midfield ticking but we were almost always out of options when attacking the final third. QPR had 6 in place every time we attempted an attack and the hesitance in our attacking play was again making it easy for them to defend against. Additional touches were taken, first touches were off, runs were not read and met timely and there was always a need to pass the ball back and look up for a few seconds to spot a gap.
We were almost always out of options when attacking the final third.
Walcott managed to challenge for an aerial ball that the QPR defender messed up horribly. His snapshot was accurate to the near post but it was easily palmed away. There was also a goal line clearance a few minutes later as the Gunners tried to get a second goal for safety.
On the other hand, QPR continued to mount counter attacks mainly through Townsend. The closest they came to scoring was from a Remy shot that Szczesny did well to palm away at full stretch.
As the game played out towards the ending stages, Wenger decided to throw on defensive replacements to keep the one goal lead in tact. Oxlade Chamberlain came on for Podolski, Wilshere took over Cazorla and captain Vermaelen took the place of Rosicky. There were no heart stopping moments in stoppage time as Arsenal closed out the game.
1-0 to the Arsenal. How strange it felt.
Bar the first few seconds of the match, we were flat, slow and predictable. It was rather worrying to see a team filled with passing and movement talent to hit a brick wall every time they approached the penalty box. Earlier in the season, I was hoping that the Gunners would employ a 4-4-2 system considering our new signings but Wenger has stubbornly stuck to 4-3-3.
The lack of intelligent dynamic decision making is costing the team as we are spread out too wide whether in attack or defence.
Our 4-3-3 has been somewhat effective in giving our side defensive cover in the central channel but our wings are wide open. Our wingers, Theo, Cazorla and at times Podolski, Gervinho and Oxlade Chamberlain are not making intelligent runs to cut into the box to overload or to track back and aid the defense. The lack of intelligent dynamic decision making is costing the team as we are spread out too wide whether in attack or defence.
Critics will jump on Podolski again. He offered nothing of note and ended up dropping deep into the midfield or swinging out to the left. What Podolski and Theo is unable to do is to create space for themselves. They hang to the shoulder of the last defender well but with teams defending deep in a containment strategy against us, they have little space to run to even if a perfect pass is placed.
Giroud is able to muscle his way into space but is also unable to fool defenders into committing themselves deep before pulling a yard back to open up space for himself. While Podolski did not perform well, I do not think Giroud could have done better. We are no longer able to score Henry-esque goals because teams are defending very deep. Henry used to beat his man outside the box and get into 1 on 1s. If he tried that now he’ll find another defender near the edge of the six yard box. I call that the ‘Mourinho-park-the-bus-effect’ but that story is for another day.
Our center forwards have to be more intelligent and situationally aware.
There were chances for Cazorla, Rosicky and Podolski to let fly from outside the box. Because the QPR defence was dropping so far back, there was space outside the box to take a good shot at goal. None of them decided to test the keeper, promising positions were wasted and the ball repeatedly trickled into the mass of QPR players.
None of them decided to test the keeper, promising positions were wasted and the ball repeatedly trickled into the mass of QPR players.
I think Wenger has to instruct the team to shoot if facing a defence that simply attempted to contain before smothering out attacks. We can’t be attempting to pass our way 4 vs 6 in a tiny box, it just doesn’t make sense. Lethal long range shots will pressure the defense to step forward, giving us needed space behind their lines.
1-0, 1-0, 1-0
I know I come off as complaining quite a bit even after a victory. In past seasons, we have played well and lost. This time, we have quite a few poor performance that led to 1-0 victories. The fact is, we have picked up important 3 points when it could have been easily draws. Games against Stoke, Sunderland, Fulham and other close one goal wins come to mind.
It was ugly. We should have done better but yet again historical odds were against us. Our first win at Lotfus Road against QPR (EPL) leaves us with 2 games to go and 6 points we desperately need to pick up.
It’s going to be a nervy finish and anything can happen.
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