Wright-Phillips’ disaster hands Arsenal victory – full match report
Monday, 2nd Jan 2012 00:28 by Clive Whittingham
A single second half strike from Robin Van Persie, aided and abetted by Shaun Wright-Phillips’ terrible back pass, sealed a 1-0 victory for Arsenal against Queens Park Rangers at the Emirates Stadium on New Year’s Eve.
For QPR, 2011 was a fabulous year in which they finally returned to the top flight of English football for the first time since 1996. It seems strange therefore that the calendar year began and ended with frustrating 1-0 away defeats.
If Neil Warnock can keep his side in the Premier League this season then 2012 will be just as successful as the previous 12 months. His task relies largely on sifting through the dross on offer in the January sales to find players of genuine quality at either end of the field that clubs are willing to sell – no small task, and if the rumours of a loan deal for Manchester United’s chain smoking definition of ‘overrated’ Federicho Macheda are true not one that’s going terribly well at the moment.
But whether it’s Macheda of Messi coming through the entrance at Loftus Road this January will be irrelevant if QPR’s players, old and new, continue to fail with the very basics of the game. There is tremendous ability in this QPR side, more so than in the other two teams who came up alongside them from the Championship in my opinion despite both Norwich and Swansea sitting above the R’s in the table, but they’re making this Premiership season far more difficult than it needs to be.
The gilt edged chances missed against Newcastle, Aston Villa and West Brom at Loftus Road could have provided six more points and a creditable tenth position at the turn of the year and QPR should have had a point at the Emirates Stadium as well but again, fundamental errors cost them the opportunity.
Teams like Rangers going to places like Arsenal often like to engage in the art of bus parking, assembling a flat back ten along the edge of the area and essentially standing with fingers in ears shouting “lalalalalala” and hoping that the time ticks away, their only hope of a goal of their own coming in the form of attacking set pieces. QPR, to their credit, did not adopt this technique against the Gunners and crafted some very decent goal scoring opportunities of their own in a good all round team display. But that doesn’t mean that set pieces weren’t an excellent way for QPR to score a goal and it was therefore utterly heartbreaking to see one corner and free kick after another tossed aside like an unwanted Christmas gift.
Are we practising these at all? I mean literally are we doing any work on them at all? The way the designated takers of our corners and free kicks changes three or four times during a game makes me doubt whether we are. The quality of the delivery - utterly, utterly, utterly shambolic , embarrassing and abysmal throughout this game - makes me sure we’re not. As a newly promoted team the very least you can do is get the set pieces right at both ends of the field.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been called The Professor during his time in English football because of his meticulous, studious approach to the game and revolutionary team preparation. Perhaps a new, more suitable, monicker should be The Mediocre Pastry Chef. To make good pastry you need flour, but you also need several other ingredients. To build the perfect football team you need game changing attacking midfield players with the vision and talent to unlock opposition defences and Wenger collects these like my gran collects Toby Jugs. But you also need lots of other things too, most of which Arsenal lack. By assembling a squad with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Andrey Arshavin, Gervinho and Yossi Benayoun in it Wenger is effectively trying to make pastry by throwing bags of flour into the oven and wondering why it isn’t producing a decent pie. For all the tippy tappy approach work in this game they ultimately won by a solitary goal provided for them, on a plate, by Queens Park Rangers whose struggle with the basics of the games also includes being able to concentrate for a full 90 minutes and retain possession competently.
The scorer was Robin Van Persie, who started the day in attack requiring two goals to equal Alan Shearer’s record of 36 Premiership goals in a calendar year. Arteta, Ramsey and Arshavin were on tippy tappy duty in support.
For QPR, five changes from the side that fought back well to draw at Swansea earlier in the week. Paddy Kenny remains troubled by fitness worries and he dropped out the day before the game leaving Radek Cerny to pick up the gloves. Ahead of him the club’s resident bulimic Fitz Hall followed up his impressive showing at the Liberty Stadium by, wouldn’t you just know it, getting injured for the seven hundred and fifty thousandth time in his professional career. Matthew Connolly came into the centre of defence against his former club alongside Danny Gabbidon, recalled at the expense of Clint Hill who I felt was unlucky to miss out after his display in South Wales. Another former Gunner Armand Traore started at left back with Luke Young on the right. In attack Heidar Helguson sat out with an eye on Norwich at home on Monday and Jay Bothroyd started as the lone striker at the club where he began his career. Support came from the recalled Shaun Wright Phillips, Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt. Joey Barton and Ale Faurlin were charged with holding the midfield.
And it was definitely QPR who started the game the brighter of the two sides, perhaps surprising Arsenal with their willingness to go forwards in numbers. Adel Taarabt’s return to form continued as he pulled the strings in the first ten minutes – first coming within an inch or two of threading a through ball that would have sent Armand Traore screaming in on goal had it not been intercepted by Vermaelen, one of two Arsenal centre backs pressed into action on the flanks due to a full back injury crisis. Jay Bothroyd then had a low shot saved by Szczesny in goal and the Polish stopper had to be quick off his line again moments later when Wright-Phillips executed a nice one-two with Taarabt and found himself in space in the area but his instinctive first time shot was beaten away skilfully by the onrushing keeper.
It took a quarter of an hour for Arsenal to show their teeth, when they did it came from a predictable source. Van Persie moved into the penalty area with real purpose, twisting and turning Matthew Connolly into a real state before firing a low cross shot into the six yard box that Cerny saved well down low to his right.
The accusation that Arsenal are a one man team isn’t entirely fair - in this game I was really impressed with Aaron Ramsey’s all action midfield display for instance - but they are certainly heavily reliant on Van Persie for their attacking threat, particularly when Arshavin is as anonymous as he was on Saturday and Walcott is playing so dreadfully. The former Southampton wide man produced one of the worst finishes in a one-on-one situation I can ever recall seeing in my life in the second half, skewing hopelessly wide when in on goal with only Cerny to beat and all the time in the world to pick his spot. But even before that he’d scarcely been able to do right for doing wrong – outplayed in both directions by his former team mate Traore and constantly making poor decisions with his final ball. On the half hour he smashed a volleyed cross through the six yard box and out for a throw in when the goal was wide open and begging to be shot at – the Theo Walcott who scored an England hat trick in Croatia, two of the goals coming from that exact position in the penalty area, is nowhere to be seen these days.
So it was left to Van Persie to pose the threat, and boy he did that in spades. QPR were lucky to survive a headed chance that he guided wide of the top corner after peeling off the shoulder of the last man to meet a deep cross from an onside position. Within 60 seconds he’d worked a yard of space in front of Luke Young and lifted the ball into the crowd from close range with Cerny already going to ground and then after the first of Walcott’s dire misses he found Matthew Connolly in ponderous mood under a bouncing ball and nipped in behind him before lashing over.
QPR’s encouraging start had rather melted away by this point, and the difficulty in trying to play Arsenal at their own passing game was shown when Joey Barton collected a seventh yellow card of the campaign for a foul on Mikel Arteta that actually came when Rangers were in possession and trying to play out from the back.
Referee Martin Atkinson had officiated quite calmly to this point, despite the best attempts of both linesmen who seemed incapable of getting even the simplest decision correct. Further incompetence from them ten minutes before half time saw Armand Traore rewarded for another fine piece of defending on Walcott with the award of a corner when it was clearly a goal kick. The subsequent delivery fell to Laurent Koscielny on the edge of the area and he cracked a loose ball towards goal but saw his shot palmed away by Luke Young for what should have been a penalty kick but Atkinson, five yards away, waved play on. A further handball penalty appeal moments later, again against Young, was rightly ignored.
Arsenal rightly felt aggrieved by this, but seemed to lose their composure as a result. Quick fire bookings followed for Vermaelen for pulling Wright-Phillips back during an attack that Atkinson had initially allowed to proceed regardless, and Johan Djourou for kicking Joey Barton up in the air in a piece of broken play.
Arsenal started to pile the pressure on as the half drew to a close, forcing a succession of corners that eventually led to another shot from Arteta that Barton did well to head off the goal line after stationing himself on the back post. Cerny then produced a nervy save with his fists as Arteta again tried his luck from distance. Ultimately QPR were glad to hear the half time whistle – a bright start had given way to concerted Arsenal pressure thanks to the Hoops’ inability to keep the ball high up the field.
But this was no one sided thrashing and within a minute of the restart Jamie Mackie had slipped the ball into the net from an offside position – amazing how officials can sleep through several offside decisions in the first half and then suddenly become alive to them when QPR start attacking that end of the ground. Arteta responded in kind, firing wide from the edge of the area.
Jay Bothroyd has become a target for those QPR fans who cannot attend a match without picking on one of their own players in recent weeks. His languid style is winning few friends among the travelling support to the point where a gentleman in front of me actually shouted “pull your bloody finger out Bothroyd” before the game had even begun. While he could certainly do with some of Jamie Mackie’s energy and attitude he’s not playing anywhere near as badly as some people are making out and after patient build up seven minutes after the break he teased a fantastic ball into the six yard area that Szczesny did well to keep out as Koscielny threatened to put through his own goal. The rebound fell to Faurlin on the edge of the area but it was on his unfavoured right foot and the outcome was predictably weak.
Rangers forced a corner soon after that, but the quality of wide set pieces remain an embarrassment to the coaching staff and players and Arsenal were able to launch a counter attack in which Luke Young was shown a yellow card for a cynical, tactical foul on Walcott. It feels wrong to say it, but it was good to see that sort of decision from Young given the amount of times QPR players have allowed opponents to run past them and score goals in recent weeks when a foul and sacrificial yellow card would have been a far better outcome.
Walcott picked himself up to produce his unbelievable one on one miss but four minutes later, on the hour, Wright-Phillips’ brain explosion handed Arsenal the killer goal. It was a pass played without looking, into the right back area where no right back was stationed. It was a slack piece of play, coming just after Arsenal had replaced the injured Vermaelen with Francis Coquelin during a stop start period of the game – concentration was the issue here. Arshavin fed Van Persie and he swept the ball home. A single lapse in thought process in an otherwise improved Wright-Phillips performance and Rangers were behind. It should be noted though that 30 seconds prior to it all, at the other end of the field, QPR had seen a corner awarded as a goal kick to Neil Warnock’s absolute astonishment and fury. You expect better of Wright-Phillips, but you expect better of Premiership match officials as well.
Warnock immediately sent on DJ Campbell for Bothroyd and later introduced Tommy Smith for Jamie Mackie but both found themselves starved of possession. Campbell in particular took up several good positions on the shoulder of the last defender but was never fed the ball, he must be a tremendously frustrated man with the way things are going for him at QPR at the moment. Talk of a loan move elsewhere in January seems ludicrous without a run in the team first when you consider how difficult we’re finding it to score goals.
Arsenal for their part sent on Tomas Rosicky for Andrey Arshavin but were still being asked to do plenty of defending. A fantastic save from Szczesny denied Taarabt a first Premiership goal for Rangers after the Moroccan cut infield and curled a trademark shot towards the far corner. Predictably the resulting corner was wasted, played short and lost, but when Taarabt did finally plant a decent wide delivery from a dead ball situation into the heart of the penalty area Matthew Connolly turned a first time snap shot over the bar. Frustrating that when defending Connolly likes nothing more than to allow a ball to bounce and spend too much time dithering about but when a chance falls to him in the opposition penalty area he snatches at it when time was available for so much more.
Ale Faurlin’s inconsistent passing form continued as we moved past the 70 minute mark. First he produced a superb through ball for Taarabt who appeared to be hauled back in the area but Atkinson wasn’t convinced enough by a theatrical fall to award a penalty. Then the Argentine carelessly conceded possession and set up an Arsenal counter attack that ended with Ramsey shooting over the bar. Faurlin is a man often doing two jobs at the heart of the QPR midfield at the moment with Barton in poor form, he desperately needs a Premiership quality Shaun Derry type player alongside him.
Wenger sent on Gervinho who almost silenced chants about his odd-shaped head immediately but after a powerful run into the area he dragged his shot wide. It must be said, his crown does look a lot like the space ship from the Flight of the Navigator.
Bradley Orr came on for Traore late in the game, presumably the otherwise excellent Senegal international has picked up an injury yet again, but there was a growing sense that QPR had blown their chance. Ramsey had a low shot saved by Cerny as the clock ran down to full time.
Arsenal spent three minutes of added time keeping the ball in the corner, and Arsene Wenger was complimentary about QPR’s ambition and performance post game. The second half at Swansea and full showing here are encouraging for QPR fans after a dreadful December that has seen four defeats and two draws from six matches. The R’s look more comfortable having slipped back into their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation but need quality reinforcements from a difficult market and have still only taken one point from six despite the improvements.
A 1-0 defeat at Arsenal is certainly no disgrace, but of all the big teams in the league I believe them to be the easiest to play against. They’re fragile at the back and reliant on just a couple of players to prop up their attack. QPR did everything right here and had the game exactly where they wanted it only to then hand it to Arsenal with a bad mistake, albeit when they should have been setting up for a corner at the other end.
Ultimately it’s another missed opportunity for points and as we turn around at the halfway point of the season, we cannot afford too many more of those in 2012.
Arsenal: Szczesny 7, Djourou 6, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 7, Vermaelen 7 (Coquelin 54, 6), Song 6, Arteta 6, Walcott 5 (Gervinho 74, 7), Ramsey 8, Arshavin 5 (Rosicky 67, 6), van Persie 8
Subs Not Used: Almunia, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh, Benayoun
Booked: Vermaelen (foul), Djourou (foul)
Goals: van Persie 60 (unassisted)
QPR: Cerny 7, Young 7, Connolly 6, Gabbidon 6, Traore 7 (Orr 77, -), Faurlin 6, Barton 6, Mackie 5 (Smith 74, 6), Taarabt 7, Wright-Phillips 6, Bothroyd 6 (Campbell 64, 5)
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Hill, Derry, Helguson
Booked: Barton (foul), Young (foul)
QPR Star Man – Armand Traore 7 Going back to his old stomping ground I thought Traore had a very decent game indeed, showing defensive nous and competence that is often missing from his game to comprehensively get the better of Theo Walcott. Hopefully his injury isn’t bad enough to keep him out of Monday’s important game with Norwich. Credit also to Luke Young and our biggest attacking threat Adel Taarabt.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire) 5 Overall the refereeing itself was mediocre. Both sides should have been awarded penalties, Arsenal for the Young handball and QPR for the blatant tug on Adel Taarabt, and the Arsenal goal came when Rangers should have been preparing to take a corner kick at the other end. But on that occasion, and many others, Martin Atkinson was badly let down by two woefully inadequate assistants. This is déjà vous for the Yorkshire official who was in charge at Loftus Road earlier this season when Shaun Wright-Phillips had a goal disallowed for offside incorrectly.
Attendance: 60,067 (3,000 QPR approx) I didn’t think the Emirates was as quiet as people make out, but it was certainly a poor atmosphere for the number of people there. From my seat I had a gentleman in front of me who shouted at Bothroyd to pull his finger out before the game had even kicked off and then spent the next 90 minutes loudly picking fault with every single little thing QPR did, a child to my left who shouted “no singing in the library please” every 25 seconds for the entire duration of the second half, and a coked up moron in a beige cardigan on the other side of the segregation fence to my right. So not my finest matchday experience all round it must be said.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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