Premier League 2011-2012 / Game 31 / Loftus Road
Queens Park Rangers 2 (Taarabt 22, Diakite 66)
Arsenal 1 (Walcott 37)
Arsene chose to start with the same eleven that began so brightly at Everton ten days ago, with the returning Koscielny replacing Djourou and Ramsey coming in for Gervinho. It was an understandable decision, based on the opening 20 minutes at Goodison Park, and the manager’s recent preference of playing a four-man midfield for away games.Arsenal’s winning run of seven games was halted by London neighbors Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road yesterday, inflicting a first defeat for Arsene Wenger’s men since 22nd January 2012, when the Gunners lost by the same score to Manchester United at home.
QPR lined with Zamora up top on his own, and a solid five-man midfield of Derry, Barton and Diakite in the middle, with Taarabt left and Mackie right. At the back, the Rangers moved Onuoha to the right with Hill partnering Ferdinand in the centre and Taiwo at left back.
We dominated early possession without creating too much – a feature of much of the afternoon. QPR came into it quickly enough though, both Zamora and Mackie trying to make runs behind the back line. As the half wore on, the Rangers midfield started to press the ball much better, forcing Rosicky into losing possession on more than one occasion.
Our attacks were consistently narrow with both Rosicky and Ramsey preferring to cut inside at each opportunity. QPR were set up for breaking Arsenal’s play through the middle and they did just that.
At the other end, the home side were looking increasingly dangerous when Jamie Mackie or Adel Taarant were on the ball. Zamora was causing problems for both Koscielny and Vermaelen, holding the ball up well, drawing fouls and winning free kicks just outside the box.
Ranger’s opener came in the 22nd minute, after some brilliant work by Taarabt. The talented Moroccan wrong footed Vermaelen before going past the Belgian far too easily and then beating Szczesny to his left with a right footed shot. QPR had looked the more threatening, and the goal had been coming.
Arsenal were stunned but could not muster an immediate response. Our defensive difficulties down the left side seemed to be growing. There was a lack of communication between Vermaelen and Gibbs, both defenders often going for the same ball with Ramsey still upfield. The Welshman did track back to help out in defence, however Mackie, Zamora and Barton were winning most of the tackles.
Arsenal’s equalizer came in the 37th minute after some good defensive work by Alex Song to win the ball deep into Arsenal’s half. A few passes later, it fell to Robin van Persie at the edge of the box, who managed to poke the ball into the box for Theo Walcott to run onto. The Englishman fired a right footed shot past Kenny, only for the ball to cannon off the post. Luckily, it fell straight into Theo’s path again and he coolly finished into an open net.
At 1-1, Arsenal did start to see more of the ball but never looked in total command and at half-time, Mark Hughes would have been the happier of the two managers.
After the break, the expectation was that Arsenal would come out firing and put the home team on the back foot. It did not happen that way, although as the half progressed, we did look more assured and kept possession without creating many clear-cut chances. There was one lovely through ball by Alex Song to set RvP into the box, and it looked like the Gunners were going to take the lead, but Captain Vantastic’s strike was well saved by Kenny.
By this time, the pitch was starting to fall apart. Whatever tips the curator at Loftus Road got from his counterpart in Milan, it certainly worked. Big chunks of grass were coming off, the ball was bobbling around and players were slipping all over the place – mostly Arsenal ones, it has to be said.
And the second QPR goal came from one such slip. Vermaelen was marking Mackie on the edge of box, when he lost his footing allowing Mackie to stroll past him, look up and find an unmarked Diakite running into box. The Malian made no mistake with a side-foot finish which gave Szczesny no chance.
Arsene Wenger made substitutions, taking off Ramsey for Gervinho and later replacing Arteta and Gibbs for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marouanne Chamakh. The Ox made a couple of good runs, we huffed and we puffed, but never really looked liked scoring. And so it ended 2-1 to the Rangers.
After the game, a disappointed Arsene Wenger had this to say:
Our performance was not good enough to win this kind of game, especially in the duels. They had a little bit of extra special commitment that took advantage of us in some specific positions defensively. Overall we can only congratulate QPR for their attitude and be unhappy with our own performance.
When asked if the result was down to a little bit of complacency, he said:
It is difficult to single out one reason but why not? We played against a team who play for survival. We prepared properly but we missed something today and you could see that.
So what went wrong?
The simplest answer is that we just didn’t play well enough yesterday. We failed to show the qualities which have brought us success recently – determination, energy, crisp passing, high tempo, good movement and finishing were all missing from our play. Considering the momentum we had built up, it was a strangely low key performance from Arsenal. It seemed we did not have a response to the combination of a Milanesque pitch, the physicality of Bobby Zamora up front and the work rate of the QPR midfield.
Did we get our tactics wrong?
Not really. Although as we were playing the 18th placed team in the league, I’d felt Arsene Wenger would have chosen to play this like a home game and retained our winning 4-3-3 formation. Still, I think it was more o a personnel issue than a tactical issue. Whatever Arsenal’s formation on paper, the wide midfield players usually interchange positions at the best of times.
With a predominant right foot and lack of genuine pace, Aaron Ramsey is unsuited to playing on the left hand side. QPR lined up with three holding midfielders, so it was always going to be difficult to create chances through the centre. The Welshman cannot be faulted for effort, but he does not look comfortable out wide, probably contributing to his current form as well.
On the other hand, both Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have the ability to run down the outside or cut inside. As neither of them started, our attacks were predictably through the centre and the QPR right back was never tested. Combined with the fact that Walcott did not have the best of games, our wing play was non-existent on the left and not threatening enough on the right.
Even when Gervinho came on, Arsenal did not try to use the width and stretch play. Instead of whipping crosses in towards the end of the game when Chamakh was brought on, we continued to try to play our way in through the centre. RvP did not have a good game, and there were many occasions when he was not able to hold the ball up or create a clear cut opportunity.
This is the ideal game for Arsenal to evaluate, and work out a response to going behind against teams that sit deep and narrow. Namely, a plan B. We’ve seen Manchester United win tight games time and again by getting down wide and whipping balls into the box while midfield runners cause panic among the back line by pulling them in, to then invariably have a forward step up and tap in.
We ourselves have done this recently against Newcastle, where the pressure of dealing with balls into the box told on the visitors in the end, Vermaelen scoring in the last minute of injury time. Yesterday, we never really showed a desire or awareness to use this direct route after going down.
Overall though, we must maintain some perspective. The stats show we dominated the game in certain aspects. We bossed possession at 67%, attempted 649 passes to QPR’s 296, and completed 85% of them compared to QPR’s 70%. We had more corners than the home team, more crosses and a better crossing accuracy.
Crucially though, QPR won more possession duels and more tackles than we did. It’s an indication of what we saw visibly, that QPR competed with Arsenal throughout the match, even though they were seeing lesser of the ball. Still, we may have got something out of the game but for two mistakes by one of our defenders.
That’s football and that’s the Premier League. Maybe we were a little complacent, although it’s not only the players that got it wrong; the author of this post predicting yesterday that Arsenal would comfortably come out on top.
The one positive from yesterday was that Laurent Koscielny played the full 90 minutes without picking a yellow, meaning he will be eligible for the Manchester City game.
I think this is a good wake up call for us. Chelsea won yesterday and if the Tots do the same today, Arsene’s warning that we could finish anywhere between third and sixth will certainly ring true.
We have certainly been ‘up for it’ against the bigger sides this season, discounting the United game in August of course, so I am confident the players will refocus after this setback and come back strong against the Blues. Chin up and let’s move forward.
That’s it for today, your comments most welcome. Until tomorrow.