Arsenal came out sluggish to start their game against QPR at Loftus Road today. But for a couple of fine saves from Ospina and a just wide shot from Charlie Austin a few minutes before halftime, they could well have paid the price. Instead the half ended nil-nil and the Gunners started the second half more brightly. They were unlucky not to gain a penalty and a red card (or second yellow) as QPR defender * pulled back Ozil when he was moments from probably finishing a nice cut back after a slick drive down the right from Rosicky. Sanchez had a chance a few minutes later after a lovely flick by Giroud, but he took too long to settle and the ball was cleared. In the 59th minute, Phillips came close on a shot from range, just missing the far corner past a diving Ospina.
Arsenal were controlling the ball, but the chances were few and far between as the final 30 minutes of the game commenced. In the 63rd minute, Sanchez showed his quality with a beautiful cut back to Gibbs, whose shot was blocked right into the path of a charging Giroud. The Frenchman made no mistakes finished smoothly from close range. It was his fifth in the last five league games and continues his recovery from the awful game against Monaco. Two minutes later, Sanchez got past his defender again and hit a strong shot toward the corner, well saved by Green then found himself one-on-one with the QPR GK, only to wait too long and allow the ex-England International to save well. In the 69th, he finally took his chance with an incredible goal from an insanely acute angle making it 2-0. Arsenal almost made it three in the 75th minute after Bellerin cut in down the right and slotted back to Rosicky, whose shot was blocked before Ozil almost sent in the rebound (but for another intervention from Green and the post).
Arsenal were cruising until the 82nd minute when Charlie Austin was given too much room by Koscielny and Gibbs and scored to make it 2-1. It was another switch off by the Gunners defense that has been playing well in general, but prone to the errors that plagued them in past seasons, and yet another fine finish from Austin. Wenger brought on Ramsey for Rosicky in the 86th minute attempting to shore up the lead and three points. But some sloppy passing saw them giving the ball away on more than one occasion as the clock neared the full 90 minutes. Four additional minutes showing up on the clock added some stress to Wenger’s face, as QPR continued to attempt to send balls into the box. With a minute left in extra time, Welbeck came on for Ozil and Arsenal were able to hold on again.
1. Referee Malaise Continues: the calls for some sort of video-based officiating review system must be gaining momentum as EPL officials continue to miss call after call. It was quite clear that Ozil was pulled back right as he was about to finish a strong chance from three feet and it should have been a penalty and sending off. Instead Arsenal had to wait until over 60 minutes had passed to score. Luckily it didn’t affect the game, but was yet another example of referees failing to call clear penalties. And West Ham had a decent penalty claim themselves in a 1-0 loss to Chelsea, as Cahill handled the ball in the box (though from a close range shot).
2. Sanchez Dip Over? Alexis Sanchez was arguably the hottest player in the EPL heading into the new year, but a minor injury that kept him out for a couple of games appears to have affected him, as he wasn’t scoring goals, creating chances or even getting past defenders with the same acuity. Then the second half started today and Sanchez came back to life, first contributing the pass that led to the opening goal and then giving the Gunners some breathing room with his lovely finish on the second. The Gunners will need him back at his best if they are to ensure champions league football for next year and have any chance to turn the tie against Monaco around and this was a good start.
3. Coquelin Castle/Giroud Magic: the most impressive thing about the Gunners in the recent run (forgoing the Monaco and Tottenham debacles) has been their pressing style and stout defending, giving up few goals with some great goalkeeping by Ospina. The most obvious target for praise, however, is Coquelin, a player many thought would never wear an Arsenal uniform again. He has been a rock at the heart of the defense and has dramatically improved his poise and passing as well. The Gunners need to keep him healthy and then sign a second DM this summer (unless Bielik lives up to the hype and can make the move up in August) if they want to take the next step. Another player worthy of comment is the surprising Bellerin who has surpassed Chambers as the right back, at least until Debuchy returns. His pace and crossing ability are impressive, but he is also a quality defender that often steals or blocks balls coming from his wing.
Arsenal needed the win today to keep the gap to City at a reasonable level (they beat Leicester 2-0) and their advantage over Liverpool (2-0 winners over Burnley), United (late 1-0 winners over Newcastle) and Tottenham (3-2 over Swansea) intact. Next up for the Gunners is an FA Cup date at Manchester United on the 9th, a home game against West Ham on the 14th and then the away leg against Monaco the following Tuesday. QPR, on the other hand, see themselves dug deeper into a relegation battle with an important match at Crystal Palace sandwiched between home games against Tottenham and Everton (who lost again today 2-0 at Stoke). The season is shaping up as a great battle for the 2nd through 4th spots and at the bottom, though Chelsea will have to slip up to lose a title that seems more likely with each passing game (they won 1-0 at West Ham).