Monday, October 29, 2012

Arsenal 1 QPR 0

It was an unconvincing victory, but a win is a win. What mattered was that we took all three points we desperately needed. If we could have done it in a convincing way, it would have been ideal, but at the moment scraping a win seems to be the best we can do and we did just that. Also, the clean sheet was a notable achievement (although it was threatened for a number of times), considering the fact that we have conceded first goals six times in the last eight games in all competitions, which has made the games very difficult for us.

Our attacking was still not clicking to produce goals, but we have created a lot more chances than the last two games put together. Contrary to Mark Hughes' claim that Arsenal created nothing apart from Cazorla's chance, the stats showed that Arsenal had 9 shots on target and another 9 off target, in comparison to QPR's 2 shots on target with 2 off target. Had it not been for Julio Cesar's heroics, we would have scored 4 or 5 goals. It wasn't typical Arsenal style of football which is easy on the eye, but things are definitely getting better.

As usual, major talking points prior to the match were about team selection, and this week its focus was on whether Wilshere would play. He was expected to be included in the squad once again after making the bench against Norwich and playing another 90 minutes in the U-21 game earlier that week, with his eye-catching performance. However, it seemed to us that this game may have come too soon for Jack to start. Based on this notion, we thought Francis Coquelin would get the nod for the remaining midfield starting place on the back of his committed performance against Shalke. We kept a watchful eye on team news, but it looked that the boss was going to leave his final decision until last minute. In fact, after the match, the boss revealed that he told the England midfielder his intention to start him at 10:30 am on the match day. Jack's inclusion in the starting line-up came as a welcome surprise to us.

Jack Wilshere was still not 100 per cent match fit, according to Arsene Wenger's pre-match comments, but the players and the supporters alike desperately needed a morale boost after the back-to-back defeats. Playing Jack in a league game for the first time in 17 months could have been a gamble, but Wenger's decision paid off. Not only did his presence give us a lift, but also his performance was impressive, giving the team much-needed creative sparks. He also ran at defenders and took on them. The effect of his long-term injury was not visible at least in a psychological aspect. Santi Cazorla, who usually orchestrates our attack, has been deprived of freedom and space in the recent games against Chelsea, Norwich and Shalke. It will be difficult for the oppositions to shackle both Santi and Jack all the time. Jack's presence is likely to free up space for Santi.

Jack was always going to fade later on and he retired in the 67th minute, but it seems safe to say his first Premier-League adventure was successful. There was an anxious moment when he had a knock on his ankle, but he carried on playing. During Jack's 67-minute appearance, we had a glance of what could be Arsenal's best midfield combination this season in the shape of Santi, Jack and Mikel. This was a totally new partnership for Jack, but it looked that it would't take too long to gel together and find a new attack-defence balance, just like it took Cazorla no time to acclimatise himself to Arsenal style of football.

Bacary Sagna also made his return from a long-term injury. Dropping in-form Jenkinson was somewhat surprising for us, but it showed that Wenger's faith in Sagna as a first-choice right-back and the France international did not let the boss down. He played as if he had never been away.

We fancied Giroud up front for this game and as expected, the french centre forward led the line. We think he has now reached adaptation stages where a striker benefits from more playing time. He should start more often.

Following Andre Santos' calamitous performance against Shalke, we wanted to see Vermaelen playing as the left-back with Santos dropped to the bench and Koscielny and Mertesacker in the centre-back partnership. However, we also anticipated that Wenger would always prefer playing a specialist full-back whenever they are available and we were right about Wenger's inclination as Santos took the left-back position once again. In fact, he didn't play too badly despite QPR targeting his flank just as Shalke did.

Prior to the match, it looked that both Theo Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain were out, which meant the right-wing position open to Gervinho and Ramsey, who were both heavily criticised for their poor performance during the midweek game. Ramsey started on the right wing, which didn't make some of us happy. Gervinho was understandably dropped to the bench. The team sheet revealed Walcott's inclusion in the squad. He only made the bench, but his return to the squad admittedly excited us.

We may have been a bit lucky as the boss admitted, as Stephane Mbia was sent off for a moment of madness. However, the referee's decision was nothing to do with luck. Everybody reckoned that Mbia's senseless conduct left no choice for the referee but to show him a red card, except for Mark Hughes who doubted any contact between his player and our captain. The numerical advantage certainly helped us to unlock QPR's dogged defence. On the other hand, QPR were lucky not to get Granero sent off for the second bookable offence, when the Spaniard fouled Arteta. We could have been one-man up for a longer period.

Mark Hughes also claimed that Arteta's winner was off side. The ref's reasoning of his decision is that a QPR defender, Ryan Nelson ran beyond the goalline at the time of the initial header, which played Arteta on side.

At the final whistle, there was no elation at Las Mimosas bar that is usually accompanied with an Arsenal victory, but just a relief. We could not afford to fall further behind our rivals and a third consecutive loss would have had a catastrophic impact on the players' confidence. Saturday's win saw us temporarily move up to fourth in the Premier League table. After all the weekend results, including Man Utd's defeat of Chelsea, we are currently 6th of the table, trailing the league leader, Chelsea, by 7 points and two Manchester clubs by 6 points. The gap now looks a little bit more manageable.

The scrappy win didn't inspire us with too much optimism, but the hard-fought win was certainly encouraging and the team's performance definitely showed some improvement from the last two games. This victory should give Arsenal a base to build on.

Player ratings

Mannone: 6
He had a relatively quiet game in comparison with his counterpart, Julio Cesar, but he did well when it mattered. He punched away Granero's free-kick to the sideline and blocked Mackie's close-range shot in the injury time to secure Arsenal's win.

Sagna: 6
Made his first senior-team appearance in 5 months. He is back physically.

Mertesacker: 6
Mostly solid. Unlucky not to score with his header.

Vermaelen: 6
Some good clearances and tackles.

Santos: 6
He was still caught out at times, but he went forward more often and get involved in attack.

Cazorla: 7
A player with his calibre should have buried a chance like the one he had.

Arteta: 8
His tenacity earned the goal.

Wilshere: 8
Bright spot for us.

Ramsey: 7
His looping header was a good effort, which hit the top of the cross bar. His shot forced a fine save out of Julio Cesar.

Podolski: 5
His work rate improved, compared with the poor level against Shalke, helping Santos more defensively. On the offensive side, he failed to make his mark in this game. Is it time to review his position as a left winger?

Giroud: 6
Julio Cesar was only able to parry the Frenchman's powerful header, which eventually led to the winner. He was unlucky not to score as his shot from angle was saved.


Walcott: 6
67th-minute substitute for Jack Wilshere. Added some pace to the game, but did not make as big a difference as we hoped.

Gervnho: 5
Replaced Podolski in the 71st minute only to be substituted 12 minutes later by Arshavin. Suffered an ankle injury and was stretchered off. We didn't see any improvement in his performance during his cameo appearance.

Arshavin: 7
Came on in the 82 minute to replace injured Gervinho. He played a crucial role in the build-up to the valuable goal as his chipped cross back from the by-line found Giroud. He also had a chance to score himself in the death of the game, but he couldn't get a decent touch. He looked hungry and raring to go.

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