Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday January 1 2012
We`re at a time of year whereby the games come thick and fast. So much so that in writing a match report for the home game with QPR, I find myself finalising arrangements for the journey to West London tomorrow. After a disappointing draw against Wolves on Tuesday, the three points were of paramount importance against newly promoted QPR. Before kickoff supporters were given an unexpected treat as Tony Adams was welcomed onto the pitch, having travelled to North London to acknowledge his statue. With another former skipper Thierry Henry in the stands ahead of finalising a loan move, plenty of Arsenal`s past were present.
The away side set up with Shaun Wright Phillips playing an unfamiliar central role- peculiar given Arsenal`s current full back crisis. With 'Disco` Adel Taraabt and Jamie Mackie playing either side of Arsenal academy product Jay Bothroyd. The Hoops set up to frustrate, but their system almost paid early dividends on the attacking front when Adel Taraabt`s through ball found Shaun Wright Phillips in the right channel. He prodded goalwards, but Szczesny was out quickly and sprawled to deflect Wright Phillips` shot with his right arm.
The Gunners took some time to settle down, but it was their captain that once again led the fight, tormenting the Rangers back four. Firstly he swivelled his neck to meet Ramsey`s slightly over hit cross at the back post, attempting to redirect the header into the opposite corner. It was an incredibly difficult chance but one he only narrowly failed to execute. He was on QPR`s tail again minutes later as Djourou made a darting run infield from right back, side stepping two players before releasing van Persie into the channel. The Dutchman danced around Luke Young and invited Cerny out to his feet, lifting the ball just over the crossbar as he did so.
Instinct took over with van Persie`s next opportunity. With seemingly not a lot of options, Vermaelen played a beautiful, swerving ball from left back. Van Persie judged the flight of it perfectly, sprinting to the other side of Connolly and meeting the pass, only to lift his right footed volley agonisingly over the bar. You felt it was a matter of time before van Persie surpassed Henry`s total of 35 goals in a calendar year. (This however, does not represent a club record. Ted Drake notched 48 goals in 1935).
Arsenal built up some pressure with a succession of corners. They ought to have been given a penalty from one when Young headed van Persie`s corner as far as Koscielny. The French defender chested the ball down and volleyed towards goal; only to see it blocked by the outstretched arm of Luke Young. A stonewall penalty. I`m beginning to wonder if we`ll ever get one again for handball in the area. It`s been a feature of recent weeks to see a decent appeal waved away for handling the ball in the box. From the next corner, the ball was once again headed half clear by Young as far as Aaron Ramsey, whose right footed volley was headed off the line by Joey Barton. Arteta then produced a fizzing shot from a short corner which Radek Cerny fisted away. But come half time, the Gunners had been unable to break through.
At the beginning of the second half, the home side`s plans were scuppered somewhat as Thomas Vermaelen limped off with a calf injury, to be replaced by Francis Coquelin at left back. We`re coming close to emulating the great full back shortage of 2006, when Flamini carved a niche for himself in an unfamiliar left back position. A subtle tactical change was made too with Arteta dropping back in front of the back four and Song moving further forward. I guess this was a nod to Song`s ability to carry the ball through a crowd of players.
On 55 minutes Arsenal created the most gilt edged chance of the game. Szczesny caught and gathered Mackie`s free kick and quickly bowled it out to Arshavin, who touched to Ramsey. The Welshman flicked the ball round Barton before putting Theo Walcott clear on goal. Theo is an instinctive player and struggles when he has too much time to weight up a finish and so it proved this time, hurrying his finish and putting the ball well wide. Looking at the replay, Walcott also twice looks to his side for an onrushing teammate, the pass obviously on his mind.
Song, in his slightly more advanced role, slid a ball down the right touchline for Walcott, he powered down the flank before pulling back for Ramsey, who`s shot flew just over. But on the hour mark, the Gunners worked their breakthrough through a predictable source. Wright Phillips played a sloppy pass straight to the feet of Arshavin in his own half; the Russian gratefully collected before sliding a perfectly weighted through ball to van Persie. There was no mistake from the skipper this time, deceiving Cerny with his eyes, looking to the Czech keeper`s left before slotting it low and to his right.
Rangers began to become more enterprising as Arsenal ushered Gervinho into the action from the bench. He ought to have made the game safe on two occasions. Firstly, when Rosicky fed Song, who in turn passed slightly behind van Persie in the area. Van Persie shrugged off Wright Phillips at the by line before cutting the ball back to the onrushing Gervinho, but he slid his finish wide from point blank range. In stoppage time he let another chance go begging as van Persie teed him up in front of goal, but the Ivorian over elaborated, taking an unnecessary touch and losing the chance. Whilst it`s true Gervinho has been less than clinical in front of goal this season, I`m not unduly worried. Finishing can be coached, ask Thierry Henry. I worry far more about a striker like Chamakh who does not even seem to be getting chances at the moment.
With Chelsea and Spurs dropping points, Arsenal clawed back the ground they lost on Tuesday, proving that the season has many a twist and a turn to perform yet. The three points took us into the symbolic holy grail of 4th place. It`s been a quite remarkable turnaround. Whilst the performance against Rangers was hardly vintage, it was about not making an error in defence and making the game harder for ourselves. Mission accomplished via some harsh lessons learned v Wolves. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 20.DJOUROU, 4.MERTESACKER, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN (39.Coquelin `54), 17.SONG, 8.ARTETA, 16.RAMSEY, 14.WALCOTT (27.Gervinho `74), 23.ARSHAVIN (7.Rosicky `63), 10.v.PERSIE(c). Unused; 1.Almunia, 15.Chamberlain, 29.Chamakh, 30.Benayoun.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Sunday January 1 2012
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