20 Seconds! Wow!
Arsenal have been starting games well off late but this was something special. If I’m not mistaken, QPR only had one touch after kick-off before Walcott slotted the ball home. That was a bad one though, and a big part of the problem for the hosts, as Traore headed a ball straight across the face of his penalty area.
For the Gunners, a number of small details fell into place, or you could say the players chose the right options and executed them well. For instance, Rosicky could have stood the ball up in the penalty box but he measured his cross and found Ramsey. The Welshman could have attempted an ambitious header towards goal from there but instead he chose to head it back towards Arteta who’d also joined the attack. The Spaniard picked the right through-ball and Walcott did the rest.
It was an excellent team goal. Gareth Bale’s late long-range strikes can be very exciting to watch but a well-worked early goal is just as effective.
After the goal the game just went flat. That was the unfortunate bit. You could sense the psychological problem that Wenger talked about was having an effect. Arsenal were not really sure whether to go all out for a second goal or to play with a more conservative approach. Wenger talked about this after the game,
Overall we played a little bit conscious that points were vital and we could not make any mistake. It was detrimental to our offensive game
I have talked about this problem throughout the season so I don’t want to dwell on it any further. I don’t expect it to change this season.
A few other points are worth noting. As I’d mentioned in the preview, City, Chelsea, Spurs, and Everton had all picked up just one point from this fixture. It was not an easy game. The margins are very small at this level and it’s important to understand the doubts that players can have and the impact those doubts can have on the result.
It’s easier to appreciate the performance with that in mind. Arsenal had not won in five visits to this ground and they’d not scored more than 1 goal against QPR in any of their last 3 meetings since the R’s were promoted in 2011.
As I’d said in the preview, a clean sheet was going to be vital to success. Sometimes perception is also affected by the timing of the goal. Many fans would have been euphoric if the game had been won with a spectacular goal in injury time. We start preparing our minds for a disappointment and a late turnaround is such a boost. An early goal, on the other hand, builds expectations right up. If the rest of the period is more about grinding a result out with a few nervy moments thrown in, the euphoria is lost.
Whether this team is good enough to compete for the title next season or not is utterly irrelevant at this moment, particularly in the context of this game and the importance of the points. But the nervous period gives everyone enough time to think and fret over it.
The quality of football played wasn’t very good. Both sides were pretty average. The hosts showed why they got relegated whereas Arsenal played it safe and spluttered forward in second gear.
QPR had a couple of decent chances but they did not have a single shot on target from inside the Arsenal box.
The Gunners defended the vital areas really well. I thought the central defenders took responsibility and did a very good job. Part of the problem for Arsenal has been that they have a tendency to concede soft goals and drop points in such games. It’s happened so often that the memories of those games takes away any joy fans can get from such a performance as the time is spent dreading a wicked deflection or a dubious penalty call or an absolute howler from an individual or two.
In this game the odds of that happening were very low even if most of us didn’t feel that way. Arsenal weren’t anywhere near great from a defensive point of view but they were mostly steady with good concentration and the work rate showed a genuine desire to keep a clean sheet. There are times when I watch the defending and think,” it wasn’t very good, they just got lucky.” That was not the case in this game. Szczesny had a couple of saves to make but they were the kind that most keepers make routinely. The fact that many fans thought he was the man of the match just shows how flawed perceptions impact opinion.
The defenders won almost all of their aerial duels, which is often an Achilles’ heel.
The hosts attempted a number of balls in behind the defence but the Keeper and the central defenders showed good understanding of situations and dealt with these without much alarm. QPR played with two strikers and Arteta did an excellent job of supporting the defence ensuring that the central defenders were not isolated against the strikers.
Arsenal’s attack could have been better. It’s been an issue all season if you leave out the uncharacteristic high scoring games. The players still don’t read each other’s movements well. For instance, there was a moment when Rosicky picked up the ball on the left flank, Podolski took up a good position just inside the penalty box to the left of centre, the Czech played it to his feet and the German was able to receive and hold off the pressure from the defender.
Then Little Mozart made a straight run expecting Podolski to roll the ball back to his left from where he’d have had a good chance of shooting. The German thought Rosicky will run in behind and laid the ball off towards his right and behind the defence. The move completely broke down. A lot of details were good, particularly the way Podolski received and held on to the ball in that area. The understanding just wasn’t there.
There were many other occasions where a similar argument could be made. Better quality always helps and I hope Wenger is able to add to the squad strength but at the moment that is not the primary problem. Any newcomer won’t be able to help the team if the players show tactical confusion, indecision, or don’t read each other’s play.
I do think the next two games will be tougher than this one and we’ll have to see if the defence can hold as firm in those.
Szczesny: Made a couple of good saves and there was that one occasion when he just diverted the ball away from a striker’s head. It’s sad that people don’t think this is a normal day for a goalkeeper.
Sagna: Did a good job of blocking some crosses and made a few useful clearances. Was a much easier game for him when compared to the previous one. Saw a lot of the ball and was reliable in possession.
Mertesacker: Got his foot in at the right moment on more than one occasion, won all his aerial duels, and made some much needed clearances. Passing accuracy was probably low because of the fact that QPR had two strikers and they didn’t give the central defenders enough time on the ball.
Koscielny: As is usual, he was again the busier of the two central defenders. Had many more duels to contest and he also made a couple of useful blocks. Stuck close to Remy when the striker moved wide and limited the impact he could have from those areas. Did a decent job of covering behind Monreal.
Monreal: Was probably the only defender who had a tough day. Townsend was able to get past him with relative ease. Should have compensated for pace by better positioning but he couldn’t quite pull it off.
As mentioned above, the central defenders had good games. Teams with two strikers have troubled Arsenal at times this season but in this game they dealt with the situation well. Similarly, ball over the top are a long standing weakness but they made the right choices and communication appeared to be clear and precise.
Arteta: Very good assist and excellent supporting work in front of the defence. MOTM in my opinion.
Rosicky: Another one who made a useful defensive contribution, particularly in the central third of the pitch. Work rate was very good and he saw a lot of the ball but wasn’t able to find the unlock the defence despite getting into some promising positions.
Ramsey: Probably worked harder than anyone else and was all over the pitch adding the extra body where needed. But I also noticed a number of mistakes in his game, like that minute in the first half where he twice lost the ball because he wasn’t alert to someone closing him down from behind. Over time he’ll learn to pick and chose his moments to join the attack and will divert some of his energy into looking around the pitch and reading the game a bit better in order to have greater meaningful influence on the game.
Cazorla: Pretty good by normal standards, below par by his own. Exhaustion seems to be part of the problem and the lack of understanding with some teammates the other. Would like to see him get closer to Podolski, play on the defensive line, and even look to get in behind.
The midfield didn’t quite find the fluidity or penetration that we know they’re capable of. But they made up for it with defensive effort. Not a game they’ll talk to the grandkids about, but one they’ll be pleased with nonetheless.
Walcott: Another well-taken early goal. Also hit the post with a shot and forced decent saves with a couple more. I liked the fact that he was trying to take players on physically. For instance, the shot that he took from the left side came after holding off the defender while controlling a ball falling from a height. More is needed as he’s getting to his peak but improvements are visible. Wenger noted this too,
He has improved his ability to resist to pressure from the opponent.
Podolski: Often had to drop too deep to receive the ball, should be receiving more in and around the box. Made a couple of good runs down the left channel and Walcott will be disappointed he didn’t do better with one of his crosses. Doesn’t look like an Arsenal striker at the moment as the understanding with the others is missing and he also has a lot to learn about that role when playing against crowded defences.
Subs: The substitutes didn’t get enough time to make an impact.
Wenger: I’m convinced the attack is not to his liking at the moment but he probably can’t change much right now. Defenders did well in this game and that should be encouraging. The quest for balance and search for confidence continues.Follow @goonerdesi
PS: If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, do spent a few minutes on my analysis of Bayern’s win over Barcelona. It’s more about a key territorial battle between the possession and counter-attacking styles and is relevant to Arsenal from both sides!