With Chelsea playing only on Sunday, the onus was on both Arsenal and Tottenham to dig out 3 points to catch up on the Blues; and it is safe to say that neither of the two preferred a safe ride. While Theo Walcott once again scored a goal within the first 2 minutes to allow the Gunners a 1-0 win over relegated QPR, it was a screamer by Gareth Bale that helped Tottenham capture 3 points against a much more deserving Southampton.
In the past 2 months, Wenger’s team had given away points in games against Everton and Man United only, but the performance by Arsenal tonight somehow brought back memories of the same old Arsenal – loads of possession, but rarely a final product. With 55% possession and a 83% pass completion rate by the Gunners, QPR’s backline were able to absorb all the pressure with a 86% tackle success rate and were then able to counter attack in the final quarter of the game.
As expected by Arsene Wenger, he didn’t change the shape or composition of the team that drew against United. The only forced change for Monreal in for Gibbs, while Podolski continued in his new striker role. Harry, on the other hand, made 4 changes in personnel – Park, Zamora, Ben Haim and Townsend came into the team.
Arsenal started with their usual shape of 4-2-3-1 with the pair of Ramsey and Arteta in the centre of midfield. While Redknapp’s choice of midfield had been predicted as crucial to compete against Arsenal’s midfield trio, he still chose to go with 2 in midfield on paper. QPR lined up as 4-4-2 with Zamora and Remy as out-and-out strikers and Park and Townsend on the wings.
Rosicky utilizes midfield advantage, M’bia disappoints
While Cazorla might have been a winger in Malaga, Wenger had used him through the centre initially. But his steady shift to the wings again can be credited to the resurgence of Thomas Rosicky. The Czech international has been in great form and the sudden burst of pace that he brings in the attacking 3rd is unmatchable in this Arsenal team.
Even in this game, Rosicky’s sudden turn around the left-back Traore left space for Arteta to receive ball in space and then play in Theo for the 1st goal within 22 seconds. Rosicky’s impact was very much visible then on as he tore apart M’bia in QPR’s midfield. M’bia and Jenas were playing without a third man for the first time this season, and with Jenas sitting deep in midfield, it was upto M’bia to attack the opposing midfielder and then start off attacks from loose balls. The Frenchman was on the back foot from the start as he could not deal with the aggression showed by Ramsey and Rosicky.
Park’s position as a winger, Sagna carefree
On paper, Park was positioned on the left flank, but the Korean kept drifting in due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Arsenal player on his wing was supposed to be Theo Walcott and, more often than not, Theo was seen playing upfront as the striker rather than a back-tracking winger. So Park rarely had to stay deep in his half defending, and instead needed to cover for Traore only in the case of Sagna overlapping on the wings. But Park was unable to do this job, as he let Sagna scamper off easily on many occasions.
Sagna had a nightmare game against United, but was relatively untroubled this time. His stats of 0 tackles and 0 aerial duels show that QPR rarely ventured in attack from their left flank with Park. But Park showed his ever-willingness to run off the ball by popping up on opposite flanks for all of his 3 shots on goal. So Sagna’s only worry was clearing the ball from set pieces.
The second reason for Park’s central drift was the obvious imbalance in midfield that QPR were experiencing. The Korean often kept coming narrower from the wings and was seen in the advanced midfielder role for a large part of the game. This way, he not only doubled the load on Arteta, but also backed up M’bia when Rosicky’s pressure was increased due to Cazorla’s presence.
Walcott’s craving satisfied, Townsend stutters Arsenal
Theo Walcott’s craving for a central striking role has been increasing all the time, and Giroud’s absence turned out to be a perfect opportunity for Theo, despite the manager placing him wide on paper. With the legit striker Lukas Podolski getting more involved in the build-up play in midfield and looking to get the midfielders to arrive late in the box, it was set up well for Theo to take centre-stage. And one look at his heat map below shows that he spent most of the time tied up next to Clint Hill and Onuha when Arsenal were building play via the right.
Podolski’s role upfront came in when Arsenal had the ball in midfield and Walcott was out on the wings looking to get past the fullback. In such cases, Podolski was playing the lone striker in the centre and was able to hold on to the ball decently well.
Arsenal were dominant in the first half, but slight glimpses of chances for the Rangers were visible. While Park didn’t follow any of the rules on the left wing, Andros Townsend played a traditional cut-in winger’s role to the fullest on the right. Townsend, particularly in the second half, terrorized Nacho Monreal and was able to get the Spanish fullback a yellow card.
Arteta was occupied constantly by the prospect of either winger cutting on to him, and moreover, he had to deal with the threat of Zamora or Remy falling back to him.
2nd half changes are lame
As usual, Wenger’s changes were not definitive enough as he brought on Chamberlain for Podolski, with Walcott officially playing striker. Chamberlain was not able to get the better of Traore at any point, and neither was Walcott able to latch onto the long balls which had now become his responsibility as the striker. Wilshere coming in for Cazorla did not affect the game as it came in the finals moments.
Harry brought on Shaun Derry at the break in place of M’bia with the intention of recalling some of the long-lost zeal within the team. But with Cazorla playing completely central now rather than Rosicky, Derry’s role of covering than man dragged him higher up the pitch. Rednapp’s late change to bring on Taraabt did not affect the game much.
Arsenal pulled out a important victory by digging deep when everyone expected them to crumble under pressure. The defence of Koscienly and Mertersacker was solid enough to control Zamora and Remy, but Townsend’s trickery on the right troubled the Gunners a great deal. The Gunners’ defence in the 2nd half was really deep and, due to little space provided between the lines, the shots from distance for QPR were much more than Arsenal.
The current standings see Arsenal 2 points ahead of Chelsea and Spurs, with the Blues having 2 games in hand and Spurs having 1 game in hand; extremely harsh results might still keep Arsenal off the top 4.
Top of the match: Andros Townsend
Flop of the match: Stephen M’bia
Published with permission from TRP.