Arsenal travel across London for a tricky encounter in the race for next season’s Champions League places. It is a crucial few days in that contest; Tottenham will surely take three points from Southampton this afternoon, pushing Arsenal into fifth prior to this evening’s kick-off. However, Chelsea travel to Old Trafford tomorrow before hosting Tottenham on Wednesday. It is hard to see how any of the trio of London clubs can recover from a defeat in this episode of fixtures with so few remaining until the end of the season. If their two rivals take four points, Arsenal too are at a disadvantage, waiting for a slip from their neighbours; thinking about the permutations is enough to have you reaching for the paracetamol.
In between rubbishing links to the return of Cesc and Mourinho to English football, Arsène had the answer to the points problem,
Let’s just focus on our performance, our quality and how we want to play
Taking that step backwards is what Arsenal need, to just worry about themselves. Having played a game more than their rivals and with insufficient points to have opened a gap, their destiny is out of their hands. Whilst they have to win, the pressure is off Arsenal to a certain extent. They know if they win all of their games, it might well not be enough to qualify for next season’s Champions League but until the final whistle at Stamford Bridge next week, it is out of their control.
QPR offer an interesting opponent this evening. For them, the pressure really is off with relegation confirmed at Reading last weekend. The criticism of certain players for levity in their adversity may well cause a sting of pride, bring determination to the surface in seeking to restore pride. Noticeably, their manager has escaped the barbs despite his failure to keep them up. His immediate past at White Hart Lane adds a sheen of spice to the proceedings but nothing of import. As a young man, he regularly attended matches at Highbury but I don’t recall that link ever surfacing to Arsenal’s benefit previously.
Wenger will no doubt keep an unchanged side. Perhaps Bacary Sagna has been distracted by Paris St Germain’s interest although reports this morning suggest the deal has all but fallen through due to impending changes in French tax law. For Arsenal, Sagna staying for another season would be beneficial in that it offers the opportunity for Carl Jenkinson’s promotion to the first team to be managed with a seasoned mentor to assist. Few though could begrudge Sagna moving on to seal a final payday given the incredible consistency of his performances up to now?
Lukas Podolski likewise, is probably going to remain in the middle today. Loftus Road’s compact pitch suggests that the German will see a lot more of the ball than last weekend as Arsenal seek three points. In the frenetic opening stages last Sunday, the space left as Podolski dropped deep to receive the ball was successfully exploited by Walcott, a strategy which may suit the counter-attacking we are likely to see in today’s away match. Arsène offered his view that the move could be successful with a barb directed in Walcott’s direction,
I believe it is [Podolski's] best position maybe because on the flanks he needs to work so hard and he’s more a finisher than anyone else in the team. Him and Theo are two finishers. I played him only against Sunderland in the first game in this position, only against Manchester United in this position, so it’s not two ideal games. The first game of the season and against Man United, but I am tempted to give him another chance of course in this position.
He wants to play there, but today all the players who play on the flanks want to play there. I’m convinced that through the middle he can have a great goalscoring record.
It is not inconceivable that a similar pattern of substitutions as last Sunday will occur today. Olivier Giroud’s suspension has left Arsenal short of options, intensifying the belief that additional striking power is needed this Summer. Arsenal have broken free of the reliance on one player to score the majority of their goals but it is a double-edged sword. In tight situations, is it sometimes hard for the players to mentally see where the next goal is coming from? Whilst I don’t expect this to be a walk in the park, the forward line below suggests there is enough to score more than QPR. I suppose we would all like to see the midfield trio chip in with a few more and certainly to Ramsey’s credit, he has made enough attacking runs late in recent games to suggest that he is capable of doing so. A couple today might reinforce that belief in himself!
With that in mind, the expected line-up is:
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Ramsey, Rosicky, Arteta; Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.