Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday April 1 2012
So it was back to Loftus Road, our first visit since 2004 when we were in the process of completing the unbeaten season. Pre match plans were made to meet in the Central Bar, a Wetherspoons inside Shepherd`s Bush`s Vue shopping centre. But being something of a beer snob, myself and Lord Lowe eschewed the crowds and the platiscy airport pub vibe and instead headed to The Swan, a delightful Nicholson`s pub in Hammersmith. With three pints of Jaipur India Pale Ale in our sails (just your 5.9% volume), we took to South Africa Road in good spirits. Arriving in the School End upper tier just ten minutes before kickoff, I had to abandon the mission to urinate such was the uncomfortable and pretty unsafe tightness of the concourse. Though Ricky`s custom designed Rocky Rocastle tee shirts ensured we were looking good!
Arsene elected again to select Aaron Ramsey on the left. At Everton, I felt it had been a tactical move in deference to Everton`s weak right side. But I may have given the manager too much credit because to repeat the trick here made little or no sense. Recently Tottenham`s slump of sorts coincided with Redknapp needlessly tinkering with his winning system and I fear Arsene has done the same with this sort of rotating diamond he`s been trying. Gervinho may be a bit leggy still but in Chamberlain we have a natural asset on the left and to jam Ramsey into that role again did not make sense and, frankly, it didn`t work because we carried no threat down that side.
The Gunners didn`t begin the game very brightly. We got the committed harrying game we would have been expecting from QPR. Too often the man in possession in our midfield was blunted by a lack of movement from those around him, with few making themselves available for the pass. The home side might have had a penalty in the opening ten minutes. Taarabt`s corner was swung in towards Zamora and Song left a trailing arm up next to his head. For my money, Song`s hand was in an unnatural position and I`d have appealed fervently had a Rangers player had his hand up and connected in our area. The Hoops were causing problems from set pieces with Taarabt`s delivery. He flung in a right wing free kick which Zamora headed just over unmarked.
But the home side did race in to the lead half way through the first half. Clint Hill`s pretty aimless pass forward was allowed to drift through our entire midfield like a leaf that gently picks up pace in an upward wind. It meandered to Taarabt, who deftly turned Vermaelen before steering the ball beyond Szczesny. It`s Arsenal`s rigour and professionalism that has brought them good results so it was incredibly disappointing to concede such a slapstick goal. But gradually the Gunners began to win a few more midfield duels- which were something of a downfall all day. On 37 minutes, they equalised. Rosicky found van Persie on the edge of the area; he muscled the attention of Hill and cutely flicked the ball into the path of Walcott. Taiwo had neglected his defensive line and played Theo onside. The first attempt hit the base of the post but the rebound was kind and rolled straight back to his feet and Walcott made no mistake, burying the second chance with the side of his foot. "Paddy Kenny, he eats what he wants" was the mocking cry from the School End.
Though I`d predicted a draw prior to the game; I felt the equaliser would see us establish our supremacy and utilise the confidence garnered from seven consecutive wins. Ramsey gave Rs fans brief reason to be fearful when he collected Arteta`s cutback and sent a daisy cutter narrowly wide. But in the second half, I fully expected Arsenal to go on and win the game. However, that dominance never arrived. Rangers still bested us in the midfield duels and the Gunners` movement wasn`t sharp enough to cause problems. A sniff of a chance came courtesy of the two fullbacks. Sagna`s cross whipped with menace to the back post, Gibbs connected but saw his header bounce just wide. But the real opportunity arrived just before the hour mark. Song`s pass carved the Hoops defence; Hill had switched off momentarily, playing van Persie onside. The Dutchman bore down on goal and looked to smash a left foot shot into the top corner, only to be denied by an excellent save from Kenny.
Six minutes later, Rangers, who had contained us without troubling us unduly, pounced on another error. Nedum Onuoha clipped a relatively harmless pass down the line. Vermaelen was in position to deal with it but lost his footing on the unctuous turf. Jamie Mackie stole in and cut the ball back for Diakite, who was completely unmarked to pass the ball into Szczesny`s net. Much of the blame seems to have been apportioned to Vermaelen. Unfairly I think. He was in the correct position, but slipped. Unfortunate really. The angle of the goal from behind the goal shows Arteta and Song both stood in the centre circle whilst Diakite is allowed to stroll into our area unmanned. That`s a far bigger error in my book.
Arsenal toiled but never really looked like equalising. Gervinho, Chamakh and Chamberlain were all tossed on. Rosicky had a long range shot saved comfortably by Kenny. Rangers might have made it safe in the dying minutes. Mackie held his run on the right, Barton found him with the Gunners over committed. Mackie cut back to Barton whose whipping shot was brilliantly turned over by Szczesny. In the end, Arsenal did not really turn in a performance worthy of much more than they got. Rangers shut us out quite comfortably and pounced on some silly errors. "Robin van Persie, he don`t score round here" was the chant from the gleeful home crowd. There might be some value to this defeat if lessons are learned and it`s used properly. Our support has got way ahead of itself with the "mind the gap" rubbish, taking it as a fair accomplit that Spurs were out of sight. So if it gives us a little more humility it might not be the worst thing in the world.
Overall, I`d have taken 21 points out of 24 had you offered them around the time Adebayor was slotting a penalty at the Emirates. The midfield was nowhere near as functional as it has been and that came down to hard work. We didn`t work as hard as Rangers did. The system looked confused. I`m at a loss to understand why the manager tinkered with the midfield after a run like this but hopefully this means an end to it. It`s not like we don`t have left wingers in the squad. But it was disappointing to see a lack of movement, whenever Song or Arteta had the ball, there weren`t enough players making themselves available for the pass. Again, that simply comes down to endeavour. Seven games left, we`re level with Spurs. They have a better run in on paper. It`s exciting, that much is true. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN, 28.GIBBS (29.Chamakh `82), 17.SONG, 8.ARTETA (15.Chamberlain `82), 7.ROSICKY, 14.WALCOTT, 16.RAMSEY (27.Gervinho `69), 10.v.PERSIE (c). Unused: 11.A.Santos, 20.Djourou, 21.Fabianski, 30.Benayoun.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Sunday April 1 2012
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