Having got back on the bike on Sunday, Arsenal must now begin to pedal furiously toward the end of the season. The visit to West London is viewed as one of the more straightforward between now and then which given it’s Arsenal we are talking about, means it will become one of the more arduous. It is the Arsenal way, of course.
Add in talk of catching Manchester City for second and this one is fast being set up for the fall. I understand players and the managers aiming as high as possible, that should always be their target but one thing we have seen this season is how quickly Arsenal fall flat on their faces when they begin to talk about it.
And to be honest, even though there is a surprising run of something like 16 wins in 21 games, the performances have recently been somewhat hit and miss. More of the latter a week ago, it’s fair to say so talk of runners-up when a top four berth isn’t even secured, seems premature to me.
That said, Rangers are in awful form. They have won one of their last nine and are in the bottom three for good reason. With only Manchester City of the top six dropping points against them this season, it’s a sure-fire victory, isn’t it. I hope the players leave the arrogance at the supporters doors, it’s our job. Theirs is to perform professionally and secure three points.
Southampton’s win last night tweaked the pressure a little by closing the gap to just a couple of points. It’s the time of the season where hoping for others to drop points is as much about cementing your own position as a defence mechanism in case Arsenal make a hash of a fixture.
Despite breaking his nose, Francis Coquelin will most likely feature this evening. It saves Arsène from making too many changes from Sunday. And if the midfielder has a good evening or is pivotal in an Arsenal victory, the headlines about masked raiders in West London – the Lone Ranger if QPR do well, by the way – will keep everyone chortling, I’m sure.
Arsène admitted that there was a high chance of history repeating itself with Coquelin and his contract. The player was most likely on his way through the exit door this summer but similar to Mathieu Flamini seven years ago, he has taken the opportunity to secure a place in the starting XI.
Indeed with Flamini, history really is repeating itself with his contract due to expire and injury striking, leaving the midfielder unavailable for a lengthy spell. Even if he returns to fitness, it will be a surprise – or serious injury – if he usurps his younger compatriot from the side.
I suspect the biggest choice is not whether Coquelin starts but if Alexis does. His form at the start of the season set the benchmark at a high level and recently his performances have dipped. Don’t even go there with statistics about productivity.
It has provoked a number of articles all of which expound various theories when three words would suffice: he is knackered.
That means a reshuffle. Arsène will probably bring Welbeck back into the starting line-up but I would personally shuffle the midfield around to accommodate Tomas Rosicky. He has played well when introduced recently; always in fact, Rosicky rarely has a bad game and for a man whose career is in its twilight years, he brings a zip and energy to the play that is a lesson for all youngsters.
There was gif of him scampering across the pitch from an Arsenal set-piece and retrieving possession on Sunday. It looked like a scene from The Benny Hill Show but underlines the zing he brings. Can’t find the link to it as I write but will look later.
It’s a key match for the season. The Premier League hibernates this weekend so going into Monday’s Quarter-Final on a high is crucial. We don’t want – can’t afford – a repeat of the Monaco debacle. This is the sort of match where performances do matter almost as much as the result; the players need to give themselves some belief before a big match that their form will hold up to scrutiny. The last thing they need is to be thinking is, “We got away with it. Again.”
From The Vaults
The almost Invincible season, so often overlooked when George Graham’s reign is discussed. It was at the time as well, perhaps losing in the Stamford Bridge sandpit in February stalled the media. I suspect though, more than anything, it was the fact that Arsenal didn’t rise to the top of the table until 12th January 1991, following a relentless and remorseless pursuit of Liverpool.
At this point in the season, the two sides were both unbeaten but Liverpool were eight points clear, having won twelve of their thirteen matches. Arsenal by contrast had drawn four. Having won the title in 1989/90, the Merseysiders seemed set to return to period of domination which had been the hallmark of the previous decade.
In fact, they were on the cusp of a wobble which would be induced by an emphatic defeat at Highbury and would ultimately cost them the title. That was a week away yet.
This match at Loftus Road remains one of my favourite ever Arsenal performances. Certainly it’s one of rare joy at this ground. Even the match reports reflect that it was, in the end, a comprehensive victory and one we enjoyed very much.
QPR were then managed by Don Howe and proved obdurate opponents but it was the hallmark of that Arsenal team that they kept going, never daring to stop in their pursuit of victory with the report not doing justice to Campbell’s goal at the end. It reads as if it were a punt clear but there was more accuracy involved in Dixon’s pass. That’s how it seems to my mind’s eye and frankly, I prefer that version.
Click to enlarge reports
Win! Win! Win!
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Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.