Friday, December 26, 2014

Three Things: Arsenal Hold on to Beat QPR 2-1

Arsenal have a good record against QPR and QPR are absolutely abject on the road this season, so it was little surprise that the Gunners found themselves up 1-0 at halftime. In fact, it probably should have been more, given a failed 8th minute penalty by Alexis Sanchez, who made up for that by scoring the first goal of the game in the 37th minute (on a header from a fine Gibbs cross). But Arsenal spurned further chances and given the reality that they have dropped 11 points already this season from winning positions (including last weekend against Liverpool, after only 9 all last season), the necessity of a second goal seemed rather acute.

The second half began much like the first, with Arsenal surging forward and creating chances on a regular basis, though none that were clear-cut. But then in the 53rd minute, Giroud lost his head, figuratively and literally. After being pushed in the black by QPR defender Nedum Onuaha when he was a step from being in on goal (and thus slammed into GK Green) he rushed up to Onuaha and head-butted him lightly right in front of ref. The inevitable red card followed quickly and Giroud will now miss three important games in this busy holiday season. It was a bone-headed move (couldn’t help myself) that could have easily cost Arsenal, but for the lackluster effort QPR was putting forth until the final 10 minutes of the game.

In fact, Arsenal still had 62 percent possession for the 20 minutes after that red card. Halfway through, they also had their second goal, as Sanchez barreled past five or six QPR defenders before laying off a perfect pass for the charging Rosicky, who got a lucky deflection to score his first goal of the season. It looked like job done, until a questionable penalty was given against Debuchy in the 78th minute, finished coolly by the in-form striker Charlie Austin. And so Arsenal had to defend for dear life, with Flamini saving the day at the strike of regular time. Arsenal did hold on for all three points, though, and have a good chance to reclaim 4th place if they can beat West Ham and Southampton lose or draw against Chelsea Sunday. Three quick thoughts on the game:

1. Sanchez the Savior: there is little question any longer that Alexis Sanchez is the best signing Wenger has made since the just-retired Henry. He already has 10 league goals (15 in all competitions) and 6 assists and the way he runs around the field, pressures and dribbles is truly something to behold and it must be inspiring to the team. He is also the only player scoring with any consistency so far this term.

2. Welbeck Withering: on the other hand is Danny Welbeck, a player who many were concerned was not a great finisher, even as he has the speed and tools to become an excellent player. That is borne out by the statistics (except maybe with England this year), as he now has only 1 goal in his last 10 appearances in the league and 3 in his last 24, counting his time at Manchester United. True he has been shuttled back out to the wing with Giroud’s return, but he really deserved that after missing far too many good chances since the switch. I also find his holdup play and passing suspect at times, though he did contribute to the opening goal. He will probably get his chance through the middle again in the next three, unless Sanchez moves into that spot with Walcott ready to play again. By the way, Giroud has been playing excellently since his return and will be missed.

3. Corner Conundrum: I mentioned in a post two games ago how abject the Gunners have been on corners this year. Watching the game today, it was again the case that far too many never get past the first defender. This appears to be largely the fault of Sanchez, as Cazorla lofted one perfectly toward the middle of the box when given the chance. It is time to take those duties away from Sanchez and let Cazorla or Walcott, upon his return, try to more consistently get in quality balls that give Mertesacker, Giroud and Welbeck a chance to score.

In the end it was job done for the Gunners, who now play West Ham and Southampton on the road in a week, hoping to reclaim the fourth spot and some momentum, before home games against Hull and Stoke and a trip to Man City on the 18th of January. QPR, on the other hand, are going to have to pick up some points on the road this season, and hope Austin stays in goal scoring form, or they could be facing the drop yet again. COYG!

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