In an ideal world, my first match report for Welcome To The Gunners Town match review would’ve followed a thrilling encounter packed with goals and talking points, maybe in the manner of the 5-2 victory against Tottenham Hotspurs, or even a gentle 7-3 win against a club managed by Alan Pardew. Either would’ve done nicely.
As it happens it was quite the contrary, and although we eventually got the job done this was a trip that on paper before the game had potential banana skin written all over it. Relegated Queens Park Rangers who have been nothing short of incompetent and uninterested all season.
Worst home record in the League with only two wins. And managed by the illiterate darling of the media world, Harry Redknapp, who in the past calendar year has missed out on his dream job managing England, consequently ballsed up a comprehensive points advantage over Arsenal with Spurs resulting in them finishing below us (again) and missing out on the Champions League (again), getting himself sacked in the process, and finally getting his new club relegated. Again. It would be sods law that that would all conspire against us and we’d drop points. But this is an Arsenal side that has seemingly learned to grind out a result when the going gets tough, with yesterday being further proof to support such a claim.
It all started so well too, as Theo Walcott capitalised on some awful defending from ex-Gunner Armand Traore to score the fastest goal of the Premier League season in just 20 seconds (our fastest in the Division ever, and the 12th quickest of all time for those of you who love a good stat). It was all too easy from Traore’s mistake. The ball eventually fell to Mikel Arteta who slid Walcott in and he fired home aided by some loose marking, a lacklustre QPR defensive line and some pretty poor goalkeeping too from Rob Green. Can’t complain though, and 1-0 to The Arsenal it was.
From there you’d expect/hope us to kick on and there was online talk of us using the game to further our already impressive goal difference. It appeared to be heading that way with QPR offering next to nothing in the opening quarter of the match, and Walcott almost doubled our lead but was denied by the post having been put through by Tomas Rosicky.
The home side then grew into the encounter towards the end of the first half, with Andros Townsend, on loan from Spurs, causing problems down our left flank and was twice involved as QPR went close through Ji-Sung Park, who really should’ve done better with chances inside our box.
It then all got a bit flat, and at half time the cries were for more intensity, etch out the complacency and see the game off. That didn’t exactly happen, and we found ourselves in a right old scrap in the second half. Townsend continued to cause problems and going forward we struggled get in behind an aged QPR defence featuring a pensioner, an Arsenal reject, and a player who has been relegated four season in a row.
Lukas Podolski again had the chance to impress from the centre-forward position, but struggled to get in on the action. His lack of mobility severely restricted our options in the final third resulting in wasted long-range efforts or misplaced passes as the frustration grew in the Arsenal end. It’s incredible how some people were happy about Olivier Giroud’s suspension, and yesterday again highlighted how important the dashing Frenchman is to the way this Arsenal side sets up. Walcott was as impressive as he has been since his distinct drop in form coinciding with his new expensive contract, and Santi Cazorla was involved although not to the same effect he has been in recent weeks, no doubt struggling with the lack of options in front of him.
Our midfield worked hard as always, with Rosicky largely dictating the play and Arteta providing the sound anchor coverage we’ve grown dependent on for over a year now. I voted for Aaron Ramsey as Arsenal’s Player of the Month for April, but he wasn’t quite at the races today with some sloppy moments on the ball but he was still as busy and intense as ever.
The game plodded on in the second half and as nerves and pressure increased as we reached the latter stages, it was Wojciech Szczesny who we had to thank as he made a string of saves including a fantastic one to deny potentially Arsenal bound Loic Remy, and eventually we crept over the line to secure the points.
After the game, Arsene Wenger spoke of our “momentum” and of another “sound defensive display”, and I think that’s the key for us right now. Whilst the performances haven’t always been great, we’re grinding out results at the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Sunderland, Swansea City and now QPR that we probably wouldn’t have got in recent years and at this stage of the season it’s all the counts.
Whilst we’re not always making the most of our opportunities in the final third, the way the manager and coaching staff has shored up the defence deserves a huge amount of credit. It’s not the glamorous free-flowing football we’ve been treated to at times over the past decade, but as long as the results continue to come then I can’t imagine anyone will complain. With this as a foundation and money in the bank to strengthen the necessary areas (ahem), it’s hard not to be excited about where this Arsenal side can go in the future, echoing comments from Wenger in the build up to this weekend’s game.
But before we can really focus on that, we have two final games this season against two sides that are both fighting for survival.
We have a ten-day break now before hosting Wigan Athletic, who beat us in this fixture last season, before travelling to Newcastle United on the final day. We’ll need to play a lot better against these two than what we saw yesterday, yet with a decent break now and momentum on our side, it’s impossible to imagine a situation anything other than an Arsenal team raring to go come Tuesday 14th May at the Emirates for the final time in this campaign.
By then hopefully Jack Wilshere will be fully fit to start again, and with a string of impressive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain performances lately there are plenty of selection options for Wenger, which is only a good thing.
We’ll also have a much clearer picture of our own destiny, with Chelsea playing three times and Spurs playing twice before we next kick a ball, including their fixture against each other where one of them is guaranteed to drop points.
I’m convinced two wins will be enough to secure third place, so regardless of what happens between now and then it’s important we focus on ourselves and get the job done. Two “1-0 to The Arsenal’s would do me fine; even if it’s as ugly and nervy as it was against QPR, you really can’t be fussy about how you get your results at this stage of the season, such is the value of three points.