Sunday, April 1, 2012

QPR 2 Arsenal 1

Arsene Wenger's post-match analysis summed up the game: "It is very frustrating because they left us the ball and waited for our mistakes. We took the ball, did not do a lot with it and made the mistakes. At the end of the day that made the result." We had plenty of the ball (with a 67.6% overall possession), but we didn't do very much with it. Especially, watching Arsenal pass around away from the box was very frustrating.

As Arsene Wenger said, it is difficult to single out any reason behind his side's poor performance. It is still a mystery to us why this team played so badly against AC Milan in the first leg and Sunderland a few days after that in the FA Cup tie. However, we try to discuss what may have been behind Saturday's below-par display.

We felt that the players didn't look like they wanted it and Wenger seemed to agree with us by admitting that his side lacked commitment. However, it is difficult to put a finger on what was the exact reason behind it. Going into this match, Wenger refused to kindle the media notion of his side being favourite for finishing third or envisage the possibility of overtaking Manchester City. He was fully aware of the difficulty of facing a side battling for survival in the top-flight football. He may have thought he had prepared his team properly for this game, but players did not seem to be quite as focused on this game as their manager was. In his later interview, Wenger admitted "Maybe we sensed it would be easier than usual and once you have that in your heads it is difficult to come back to reality." So, complacency may be the culprit.

The players had had a week break since the last match, including two days off from training. Fatigue and heavy legs were no longer excuses. Instead, now the gruelling schedule including mid-week fixtures is behind them, the week-off might have taken the edge of their competitive spirit.

We are a bit surprised to read Wenger's post-match interview because he didn't blame the pitch. We were arguing that probably the narrow pitch helped QPR keep their defence compact and led to our players struggling with judgement on long passes, a few of which went astray. However, asked about the pitch in his post-match interview, Arsene answered that the pitch is not smaller than any other pitch, although he acknowledged that the pitch was bad. We saw our players slip quite a few times, including Vermaelen's unfortunate one that led to QPR's second goal. However, Wenger did not blame anything else other than his side's disappointing performance for the loss, which was refreshing and good to see.

There were two changes to the starting XI from the last game. Fit again Koscielny came in for Djourou, which was great news for us. The other change was Ramsey in place of Gervinho. Wenger seemed to have expected the same kind of game as at Goodison Park and relied on the central midfielder's all-round, defensive in particular, capability rather than the winger's pace. Some criticise Wenger's decision but we can see his intention. The difference from the Everton game was that we made mistakes and were punished for them.

However, what we couldn't understand was the reason Arteta was subbed. In our view, he was Arsenal's best player on the afternoon. Every ball went through him just like when Fabregas was playing. He was the hub of the team. We understand Arsene desperately wanted to add more attacking power in the shape of Oxlade-Chamberlain at 2-1 down with 9 minutes left to the end of normal time, but he should not have done that at the expense of Arteta. When we won a free kick on the left-hand side a few yards outside the box in stoppage time, how much we missed Arteta on the pitch!

We don't know which hurts us more, the result or the performance. The result was a big blow as it has ended our fantastic run of wins and the league table has suddenly started looking very tight around us, with Chelsea, Newcastle, and Tottenham all bagging three points and narrowing the gap. Saturday's performance crashed our belief in the consistency that the team have built up over the recent months. Let's hope it was just an off-day and it will not happen again for the rest of the season.

We shouldn't overreact to the defeat. Yes, our performance was disappointing because we know by now that our players have qualities to beat any team when they play to their full capacity. We wouldn't say that we deserved a win because we were the second best side, but we don't think we played as badly as some fans slag off. In fact, we were quite confident at half time that we would be able to win this game just like we had done four times in a row recently. The way Arsenal finished the first half, with Theo's equaliser from seven minutes from the break, was promising. Unfortunately, the second half didn't really pan out as we hoped. It is silly to speak doom and gloom now. These things happen and with seven games left to play, maybe it's better to happen now than later. Hopefully, the players have learned how important it is to commit themselves to each game.

The next game is a massive one against second in the table, Manchester City. We have been producing better performance against top five/six this season and our home form is fairly decent with only two league losses to Liverpool and Manchester United (on both occasions, we were unlucky), while Manchester City's away form is on the patchy side. Hopefully, all the players will be well prepared for and fully focused on this big game.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 6
Many seem to believe he had little to do with QPR's two goals, but he didn't even move for the second one. He didn't leave the line to claim the ball in order to make his defenders life easier. He is a good stopper, but he needs to dominate in his area.

Sagna: 7
Maybe not his best game, but he was still a consistent player.

Koscielny: 8
Did a hard job reasonably well alongside hapless Vermaelen.

Vermaelen: 5
Had a terrible game.

Gibbs: 7
Although our left-hand flank was exposed a few times, he did OK. He went close to score his second league goal in a row with a header, which went just past the far post.

Rosicky: 7
Nearly set up a goal for RVP. Made a good effort for a goal.

Arteta: 8
He had a tough treatment by QPR players, but battled for the ball bravely.

Song: 7
Unlucky with some passes, each of which could have been one of those killer passes of his, with a fraction of difference in weight (This is the example of what we are talking about by "we didn't play that bad"). His vision was good.

Walcott: 8
Scored the equaliser. Made some good movement, but we don't think he was as effective as he should have been.

Ramsey: 6
He was taken off in the 69th minute for Gervinho, but we believe that it was part of the game plan.

van Persie: 7
He wasn't given much space and under such circumstances, he sometimes dropped a bit to play other players in. He made a beautiful move to prod Walcott into space just inside the box. Unlucky not to score from the one-on-one situation with Paddy Kenny, who denied RVP's chance with a brilliant save. Our worry is that he hasn't scored for three games. Has he gone off the boil? As Rooney has crept up in the top-scorer table of late, we hope he will start scoring goals again, although goals coming from other areas are welcome.


Gervinho: 6
69th-minute substitute for Ramsey. Made little impact.

Oxlade-Chamberlian: 7
Replaced Arteta in the 81st minute. Lively. Earned a free-kick in the dangerous position.

Chamakh: 5
Came on the pitch in the 82nd minute for Gibbs. Santos might have been more of a goal threat to QPR than him. Poor substitution. His first contribution was to give away the ball (this was the same as Santos last week, though). He is clueless as to where to play or which space to go into. Although we appreciate that he saved the first half of our season last season when RVP was injured, unfortunately, there is no space for him in this team.

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