When you’re going through a particularly Saharan spell in front of goal, the cliche is that it doesn’t matter if the ball goes in off someone’s arse, so long as it goes in*. Today, the goal that finally broke QPR’s resistance, and ended 264 minutes of arid toil since Arsenal last scored, was a fugly thing that was scrambled in by Arteta off his own rebound, but the rapture it triggered made it feel more like a 30-yard wonderhit.
This was sheer relief. As big a celebration as I can remember at home this season, and the unbottling of a lot of frustration among the fans. For the most part the performance had again been poor. The generous-minded observer will tell you that we attacked and defended better than we had against Schalke in midweek. The less generous would have noted that QPR are no Schalke, and our players could hardly have got more insipid since then.
[On the subject of Schalke, if you’re minded to have a flutter on the away game, why not try Champions League Betting over at Betfair. Now back to your regular programming.]
At least there were shots. Nine on target from a total of 22, which is clearly a vast improvement on two on target in as many games. The chances were slim ones in the first half, but slightly clearer in the second, culminating in a Cazorla horror miss that will give Giroud hope that he may face some competition for the shank of the season gong after all. On their own, though, the stats paint the performance too favourably – for much of the match this was the sterile, shuffling Arsenal we’ve come to know and not love.
The key talking point beforehand was the inclusion, from the off, of Messrs Wilshere and Sagna. It struck me as unreasonable to expect either to have an instantly transformative effect on the side. Partly due to understandable rustiness, but also because the right back position has hardly been our biggest problem, and even when fully firing Jack wasn’t a goal machine or prolific assist maker. It’s just not his game. Or at least it isn’t yet. Nonetheless he got through an hour of good work, showing a couple of those lovely takes on the half-turn that enable him to ghost past players. He also completed 94% of his passes, the best ratio on either team, and 21 out of 22 of those were in QPR’s final third, often pushing the ball wide for overlapping players to run onto. Promising stuff.
However, it was only after we hit the magical 68 minute mark, at which point Arsene is allowed to make substitutions without the players turning into pumpkins as they step across the touchline, that we saw some pace out wide in the form of Walcott, Gervinho (albeit briefly, he was promptly withdrawn with what looked like a nasty case of ankle knack) and, rub your eyes, The Russian.
A word first on Theo. Although his crosses almost invariably found a QPR shin, there’s no doubt we looked more threatening and direct once he was stationed on the right rather than Ramsey, who immediately looked more comfortable once restored to the middle.
I can just about understand the logic of playing Ramsey wide in crunch away games against tough sides, for the solidity and ball retention he theoretically provides. But the experiment has yielded mixed results: For every Everton away-style success there seems to be a corresponding QPR away cock up. It still has more than a whiff of hexagonal peg in octagonal hole for me.
The point, which I’ve almost lost sight of, is that now he’s fit again, and regardless of the irritating contract situation, the Walcott freeze out probably has to end here. We simply can’t afford not to be using a player who at least has a track record of scoring goals in our shirt.
Likewise, although one decent cross certainly does not make a sexy new spring, so long as we’re paying his not inconsiderable wages we should probably be thinking about whether Arshavin can be re-integrated into the playing side. As he demonstrated with his assist for Henry against Sunderland last season, he’s still got better delivery from tight positions than almost anyone in the squad. If the portly playmaker could find any sort of form he’d give the manager some scope to rest Cazorla and Podolski, both of whom are looking a little jaded already.
The German, in particular, is not enjoying playing with Santos one bit. And it’s hard to blame him for that. On a couple of occasions what ought to have been two-on-two situations effectively became two-on-one problems because the pair of them seem muddled about who was marking who. The Brazilian had another frankly desperate game. I think I allowed myself to believe he wasn’t a calamitous acquisition off the back of a couple of goals, but at this point he looks like what I suppose he is: something found behind the bins of the Turkish league.
Still, as noted at the top a win’s a win and after the week we’ve had it won’t do to keep banging on. (Hilariously, Elliot from Yankee Gunner's write up of the Schalke game for this site was so incendiary that having initially been plugged on Arsenal.com’s Media Watch page, it was later pulled after someone had presumably read the actual words.)
Actually, the one other thing I will have a whinge about is the time-wasting which continues to blight almost every game at the Emirates. It’s become such a bugbear of mine that I actually noted when it started: the 25th minute, a throw-in which QPR prevaricated over for so long that distant stars were born and blinked out of existence during the wait.
Inevitably, it got much worse as the game wore on and they got the sniff of a point in their nostrils. The ref’s not entirely helpful response to the lack of tempo was to spend an absolute age explaining every decision to them (which surely no one has paid to see) or imploring them pathetically to move the requisite 10-yards back from free kicks. Here’s a thought: a couple of quick yellow cards and all the BS will stop. As it was, the pisstakery culminated with the QPR keeper claiming he needed to change his boots. He wasn’t so keen to put on a fashion show once he’d picked the ball out though.
The irony, of course, was that the added time (extended due to what seemed like a fairly straightforward red card for kicking out by M’Bia) almost ended up benefitting them. Having snatched the lead, we proceeded to give up two entirely presentable chances. The second of those looked like a good point blank save from Mannone, but both opportunities were worrying in terms of how easily a restorative win could have become a sapping draw. But it didn’t, and at time of writing those precious three points have catapulted us up to fourth.
A trip to Old Trafford awaits, after a midweek visit to Reading in the Capital One Cup. Both will be tricky ties for whatever side we field. Had we lost today the United game would have looked potentially ruinous in terms of the mood around the club, but at least the team have bought themselves some breathing space. We might not have made it quite back into the light yet, but hopefully what was starting to look like a worrying tailspin has been corrected. The pretty stuff can come later.
*I’ve no idea if the goal was offside having not seen a replay at time of writing. Nor do I much care. Not because I’m against fair decisions, but I’ve long been an advocate of video replays – and extensive use of them too. I’d quite happily have a one-appeal-per-half system for managers, and allow those to be used for contentious offsides. I’m regularly shouted down by traditionalists though, so until something changes fans of all teams will have to suck down whatever decisions get served up. The End.
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