Friday, March 6, 2015

QPR 1 Arsenal 2

Arsenal claimed important 3 points on the night when all their rivals won. As a result, the north London club remained third in the table and amid a hotting up debate as to who will finish in the top four, they seemed to have become firm favourites among the pundits.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in a 2-0 victory over Everton 3 days ago. To our surprise, Per Mertesacker came in for Laurent Koscielny, proving that the World Cup winner's drop to the bench for the previous game was merely a valuable rest given by the boss rather than punishment for his poor showing against Monaco. Francis Coqulin was passed fit after suffering a broken nose during the Everton game and started at the heart of Arsenal's midfield with a protective mask on. Tomas Rosicky, who scored our second goal against the Toffees, coming off the bench, got the nod ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who in turn was dropped to the bench.

On the subs' bench, surprise omissions include Wojciech Szczesny and Nacho Monreal due to illness and a slight back pain, respectively. Arsenal welcomed the return of Aaron Ramsey from a hamstring injury. The remaining places on the bench were occupied by Emi Martinez, Calum Chambers, Koscielny, Danny Welbeck, and Theo Walcott. Since his return from a lengthy injury layoff, Walcott has been deployed sparingly, which mystifies us.

The hosts were a more energetic side in the first 20 minutes or so, which came no surprise, given their advantage of extra days off after their weekend match against Chelsea was postponed. On the other hand, this game was our third game in 8 days. We struggled to keep possession and did little when we went forward during the period. In contrast to the number of half chances they created, we had no goal attempts to show. It was frustrating especially for those who thought this game would be a walk in the park, but we were happy that the boys did not rush their game. In fact, their patience was rewarded in the second half.

Arsenal, especially Rosicky, started the second half in a vibrant manner. In the post-match interview, Wenger pointed out that QPR's hard pressing and physical approach took its toll in the second half. Especially, it was too much for Sandro who had just come back from a knee injury that he suffered in November. After the Brazilian midfielder came off the pitch, Arsenal found more fluency in their attack. The first goal came from Arsenal's sweeping counter attack initiated by Cazorla's tackle on Kranjcar just outside the Arenal box. After quick passing from Cazorla to Özil, then to Alexis, Olivier Giroud was sharp enough to get onto Gibb's deflected effort.

The second goal followed in 5 minutes. To our delight, Alexis finally got on the scoresheet for the first time in 8 matches. Aresenal continued their ascendancy and nearly added another to their goal tally when Mesut Ozil's deflected effort hit the post.

But as usually, we had to endure another tense finale to the game as Koscielny and Gibbs combined to allow Charlie Austin have a shot at our goal, which went past Ospina. However, Arsenal held on for the remaining 12 minutes and came away with all 3 points to stay third.

A section of fans are not totally impressed with Arsenal's performance, especially their inability to close the game out, but if you look at top seven teams' performances this night (and the night before for Southampton), nobody claimed a convincing win, including the league leaders, Chelsea.

Having said that, Arsenal could have won more comfortably had the referee, Kevin Friend, made a correct decision, when Özil was tugged back by Karl Henry as the German playmaker ran onto Rosicky's low cross. Replays showed Özil's claim was legitimate, with a BBC commentator shouting for a penalty. In addition, Rob Green's magnificent form (as he usually is against us whoever he plays for) kept the scoreline tight.

We take heart from some good football and fluidity the team showed in the second half. Quick counterattacks leading to both goals should be a platform to build on for the future games. Furthermore, Arsenal's recovery from the Monaco nightmare seemed to have convinced the media that the Gunners have what it takes to achieve a top four finish mentally. In the past seasons, one bad result could have triggered the collapse of form to end their title hopes. The last two results ensured that Arsenal are back in their impressive form of 2015. In fact, this marked their first back-to-back away victory this season. They were resilient in this game. Although QPR stopped them from playing their passing game with physicality and long balls, Arsenal did not give up.

Now we face a stern test in the FA Cup tie with Manchester United on Monday. Our record at Old Trafford or against this particular opponent, for that matter, does not bode well, but it's about time we should beat them, isn't it? They have been playing badly and keep getting results this season. Everybody wants them to be found out (apart from the Man U fans, of course). It's a massive match with our hopes of retaining the FA Cup at stake. We can also make a big statement in our push for a top-four finish by winning a big game.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
With QPR registering 3 shots on target, there was little to do, but he was alert whenever he was called upon.

Bellerin: 7

Made 2 tackles, 3 interceptions and 2 clearances. Going forward, made 5 crosses, none of which were accurate. 

Mertesacker: 7
Did his job on his return from the bench.

Gabriel: 7
This was his first physical test in the Premier League, in which many match reports concluded he struggled due to his inexperience. However, he made 12 clearances in his 36 minutes of action and won 8 aerial duels. He received some knocks and bruises from Bobby Zamora and had to be withdrawn in the 36th minute due to a hamstring problem. According to Wenger's initial prognosis, he could miss 21 days. Hopefully, he will get better soon. He proved himself a capable cover who can give Mertesacker and Koscielny a valuable rest every now and then.

Gibbs: 8

Provided an assist for Giroud's opener and combined well with Alexis on the left flank. On the defensive front, he made 4 tackles, 7 interceptions and 14 clearances, winning 7 aerial duels. Stats-based's Man of the Match (although some claim that's because the site overrates the number of aerial duels won and dribbles). He was as culpable as Koscielny for Austin's goal by running away from the QPR striker.

Coquelin: 8
Another gutsy performance. We were a bit worried that the protective mask could restrict his sight, but it had no effects on his performance whatsoever.

Cazorla: 8
Had a great chance in the first half after a beautiful build-up, but his shot was parried by Green.

Rosicky: 8

Lively especially in the second half. Had 3 shots, 1 of which was on target. 

Özil: 7
Had 3 shots, 1 of which was on target. In addition to the incident involving a penalty claim, he was unlucky not to be on the scoresheet when his deflected shot hit the post. Created 5 chances for his team-mates. Covers more ground than any other player.

Alexis: 8
Sky Sports' Man of the Match. Scored his first goal in 8 matches to end his goal drought. His goal came after 2 missed clear-cut chances, including a one-on-one with the keeper. It was one of those goals the Chilean was scoring earlier this season during his prolific goal scoring run: deceiving the keeper into believing that he was aiming for the far post and shooting at the near post with no back lift, after twisting and turning his markers. The effect of the goal was obvious. He was brimming with confidence afterwards. The goal answered to an argument as to whether Alexis and 
Özil can play together. Alexis was effective in this game as he played with more positional discipline. He and Gibbs often overlapped on the left flank, with the former Barcelona man finding the left-back more often and using Gibbs' runs forward more. Giroud's goal came from one of those exchanges.

Giroud: 7
Scored his 10th goal in the league this season, continuing his impressive form domestically. Hopefully, he has had his Monaco misery behind him by scoring two important goals in two successive games.


Koscielny: 7
Replaced injured Gabriel at centre-back in the 36th minute. Overall solid, but he was at fault for Austin's goal by not closing him down.

Ramsey: 6
Came off the bench to replace Rosicky in the 86th minute. Good to have him back in the squad.

Welbeck: N/A
Came on in the stoppage time to replace 
Özil probably to just take the sting out of the intensity of the QPR attack. Had only 1 touch.

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