Arsenal 1 – 0 QPR
(83) 1 – 0 Arteta
I read a comment before kick-off yesterday somewhere that said the performance against QPR was more important than the result. Which in a sport where we are often is results based, is a bit arsenal about face. It would have been typically Arsenal to have played well and drawn or lost. As it was, it was a bits and pieces performance that brought a late but overall deserved, win.
Forced into drastic action, the manager restored Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere to the starting line-up earlier than he intended. In the case of the Frenchman, it was inevitable yet impossible not to feel some sympathy for Carl Jenkinson losing his place with the soon-to-be England youngster playing well and consistently so, to this point. Wilshere’s return meant Coquelin made way with a similar fate befalling Gervinho as Olivier Giroud staked his claim to the central striking role.
Wilshere inevitably has taken the limelight for this performance. Desperate for action, the youngster fizzed the ball around, moved well, tackled and was tackled without any seemingly lingering damage. In short, he provided the energy which had been missing from recent midfield performances. It was not perfect but as the first steps in his Premier League comeback go, not bad indeed.
The visitors remain firmly rooted to the bottom of the table. Their points tally this morning is one less thanks to a great save in the closing stages from the much-maligned Vito Mannone as Arsenal sought to allow their toils to count for not much more than nought. Mackie’s run underlined the fragility of confidence, skipping through several half-hearted challenges to find the young Italian goalkeeper standing tall as the ball cannoned off his chest to safety.
Arsenal had started well enough, a little disjointed but quite quickly asserting the opening dominance. That no breakthrough came was down in no small part to obstinate, if not always convincing, goalkeeping from Julio Cesar. Early on, Santos and Wilshere were denied by the Brazilian whilst Podolski watched his effort drift wide. When Cesar was hopelessly beaten, the woodwork came to his rescue as Ramsey’s beguiling header landed on the top of the crossbar.
Time wore on and the game settled into its pattern. Arsenal passing the ball around, occasionally chipping in with an effort but QPR generally coping with all that the hosts had to offer, by fair means and foul. Giroud tested Julio Cesar once more before the break but Mertesacker’s header provided a sterner examination of his abilities early in the second half. Both were passed by the visiting custodian.
And then Arsenal hit ‘the wall’, metaphorically and literally. They ran out of ideas, blind alleys became familiar routes, six foot men might as well have been 2 ft 6 for all of the technique displayed at set-pieces. QPR took a brief attacking respite, Hoilett’s goal rightly ruled out before Vermaelen and Sagna intercepted at key moments.
It took the introduction of Theo Walcott for the tiring Jack Wilshere to provide the initial spark back to life. Walcott’s stock has risen in his absence and this cameo won’t have done him any harm, a burst of pace on the right provided an excellent but spurned opportunity for Giroud who missed the header. Cazorla should have buried the chance but instead had the club level nervously wondering if they were at Twickenham. Confidence.
The closing minutes proved to be game-changing. M’bia hacked at Vermaelen in frustration and saw red, Gervinho saw a short but brief appearance end on a stretcher and once more Arsenal saw Julio Cesar deny them. Testing times. Yet when the moments are at their least promising, a spark of light comes and this was in the form of a small Russian. Arshavin’s ten minute cameo lit the game and provided the energy needed.
Giroud profited as Arshavin caressed the ball into the centre, the rebound fell kindly to Arteta who had appeared to be offside in the build-up. The Spaniard found the crossbar which passed straight back in his direction; the QPR defence watched in vain as Lady Luck hitched her skirt, threw her leg over the saddle and rode out of their lives. Arteta smuggled the ball over the line.
Relief. Sheer, unadulterated relief. Lunacy. Hugs. High fives with strangers never to be seen again.
Three points in the end and crucially, a small hint of belief returning. As the injury-list shrinks, Arsène will hopefully see a growth in confidence not only in the players he opts for on a regular basis but those such as Arshavin, a growth in his own confidence to pick them, to trust them, to know he can call on them and when they are playing in familiar positions, get the performance he needs.
But most of all, it was a win.
“So, what do we give them for that performance?”
“10? Bit generous isn’t it? I should think 6, maybe 7 and that’s only because we won.”
“No Dad, it’s always a 10 when we win.”