Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – full match report
Sunday, 28th Oct 2012 21:45 by Clive Whittingham
Stephane Mbia’s mindless behaviour and subsequent red card went a long way to making sure QPR’s winless run stretched to nine league games with a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday.
On Saturday Queens Park Rangers put themselves in a position to take something from a game, and then found a way to lose it. How many times have I written something along those lines over the past 12 months? How many more times will I be able to write it before time runs out on Mark Hughes’ reign as manager?
Against a fragile Arsenal team forced to recall Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere straight back into the starting line up after long term injuries following a dreadful week of two defeats and a stormy AGM, Rangers did everything correctly. They held their shape, went forward when the opportunities arose, rode their luck when necessary, frustrated their hosts and restricted them to one gilt edged chance in 80 minutes of football.
Then, a brain explosion. Stephane Mbia, playing reasonably well at centre half next to Ryan Nelsen and between Jose Bosingwa and Armand Traore, chased a ball out towards the corner flag after clearing a set piece. He was fouled by Thomas Vermaelen as he did so but instead of accepting the free kick which would have allowed QPR to calm the game down and clear their penalty area, Mbia lashed out wildly at Vermaelen’s knees. The Belgian collapsed to the ground despite barely being touched, but that was hardly the point. Nor, really, was Mikel Arteta standing offside when he subsequently won the game a few moments later.
It gave Hughes the chance to explain away a ninth game without a win: a goal that should not have been given and an individual rush of blood to the head. He could also point to Rangers almost snatching a point regardless, with Jamie Mackie going closer than anybody after a typically direct run right into the heart of the Arsenal penalty area in the last minute of the game. But Hughes has to start taking responsibility. Mbia’s sending off was the eighth red card Rangers have received during the Welshman’s 31 match reign at Loftus Road. The discipline of the players is abysmal, the self control non-existent. You can only trot out the excuse of not being in control of the players once they cross the white line so often. Perhaps Hughes could start by not shaking the dismissed players’ hands as they leave the field.
And yes, Rangers could easily have snatched a point thanks to Jamie Mackie, but let’s not forget that he had only been introduced late on as a substitute. Ji Sung Park’s form has been so mediocre since he arrived this summer that many, including myself, were actually quite glad a knee injury ruled him out of this one but Hughes chose to replace him not with Mackie, or Ale Faurlin, but the terminally out of form Shaun Wright-Phillips. Not only did this replace one ineffective player with another, but it also sent a message to Mackie, Faurlin and others not currently starting matches that in certain cases this QPR team seems to be being picked on names rather than form.
Wright-Phillips started on the right of midfield with Esteban Granero and Samba Diakite in the middle. Junior Hoilett and Adel Taarabt provided support to lone striker Bobby Zamora.
The game started much as you would expect. Wilshere, adrenalin pumping on his first start for a year and a half, sent an early cross right through the QPR goal mouth and then at the other end a chipped pass into the area from Bosingwa gave Wright-Phillips a sight of goal but he couldn’t get the ball under adequate control to trouble goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Mannone made two crucial saves to deny Granero and Mackie equalisers late in the game but had been little more than a spectator before that. The same could not be said for his opposite number Julio Cesar. He started nervously, kicking the ball away after a fumbled save from Santi Cazorla’s low cross, then making a similarly nervy save from Podolski after a quarter of an hour. He made another unorthodox stop to deny Giroud on the half hour and was earlier left stranded by Ramsey’s looping header from Sagna’s cross that bounced off the top of the crossbar and away to safety.
But he got the job done; the score remained goalless. The results spoke for themselves and as the game went on Cesar grew into it to the point where it seemed as though he’d never be beaten again. He produced an outstanding performance, the best goalkeeping display I’ve seen since Radek Cerny’s at Liverpool this time last year, and he gave QPR a chance to take something from the game. He had every right to be furious that the team didn’t go on to do that.
The general consensus this season is that you have to stop Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla to stop Arsenal. Rangers did the former reasonably well, with the new Granero and Diakite partnership continuing to show signs of promise, but they left Cazorla free between the midfield and attack far too often. It gave the impression that QPR were rather flying by the seat of their pants, with Arsenal always having a spare link man in front of their back four. Thankfully Mbia and Nelsen played well at the heart of the defence and Granero and Diakite held onto the situation just about well enough to keep the scores level. Arsenal started without either Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain so lacked natural width and Rangers were able to funnel the home team into a congested area that Mbia and Nelsen dominated. When everybody’s favourite Mad Malian did chop down Olivier Giroud in trademark fashion ten minutes before half time he was lucky to escape a booking from referee Anthony Taylor and then grateful to see Lukas Podolski drill the subsequent free kick into the wall.
There wasn’t a great deal of attacking ambition shown by Rangers in the first half. This was partly because Bobby Zamora was following up a very poor performance against Everton with another stinker – albeit with several restricted service – here which meant the ball wasn’t sticking with him long enough for supporting runners to pour forward. But it was also a deliberate ploy to some extent, and when Hoilett won a corner five minutes before the break the reason for the caution was clear as Arsenal launched a lightening counter attack that Stephane Mbia held up with a superb tackle just long enough for the visitors to get enough men back and see off the danger.
QPR’s balance between caution and optimism was a little too heavily weighted in favour of sitting deep and absorbing. When they started the second half with a more positive outlook they posed Arsenal problems immediately. First a direct run to the heart of the defence from Hoilett drew a foul on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area. As Hoilett crashed to earth the ball rolled through to Zamora who was offside. For reasons known only to referee Taylor – though I suspect crass incompetence had plenty to do with it – he awarded the free kick for the offside rather than the foul, even though the ball only went through to Zamora in the first place because Hoilett had been chopped down.
Two minutes later the flag was up again as Hoilett got in behind the defence himself and chipped a fine finish beyond Mannone and into the net. While Zamora could rightly point to a lack of service and quality possession, I thought the difference between his contribution and Hoilett’s – given that the Canadian was similarly starved of the ball in dangerous areas – was marked. Hoilett may have gone a dozen minutes or more at a time without the ball in the Arsenal half, but whenever he did get it he looked dangerous and capable of causing an issue, while Zamora looked rusty and back on his heals at times.
In between the two QPR chances Mertesacker tested Cesar with a header from an Arteata free kick after Granero was judged to have fouled Santos.
The Spaniard, who left Real Madrid for Loftus Road in August, must be thinking this situation wasn’t quite what was promised in the brochure. Promised a boutique hotel in Park Lane Granero has found himself in the Kings Cross Travelodge but he’s adapting to the situation well, performing to a high standard in a poor team and displaying admirable commitment to the cause.
Granero found himself somewhat overrun at the start of the second half with the freedom afforded to Cazorla continuing to cause issues. He was nevertheless very unlucky to be booked by Taylor who awarded an incredibly soft free kick on the edge of the box that Cazorla struck through to Cesar via a deflection from the wall which took the pace off the shot. Three minutes later he tripped Arteta and Giroud repeated the Cazorla trick of smacking the free kick into the wall and through to the QPR goalkeeper. Granero was issued a final warning for this foul, and he showed admirable composure and restraint to avoid a second booking in an overworked central midfield for the remainder of the game – something his team mates would do well to learn themselves.
QPR looked more dangerous on the counter attack in the second half than they had done in the first. Hoilett was at the heart of a lot of it and after Traore drew a booking from Giroud who deliberately fouled him to disrupt a counter attack, Hoilett looked like he was set to roar through on goal before a fabulous covering tackle from Sagna denied him a run on Mannone.
Traore, signed from Arsenal just over a year ago, continues to perform well for an hour before succumbing to some injury or other. The same happened here, with Nedum Onuoha replacing him after ten minutes of treatment and limping around. It’s a shame he’s made of tissue paper because Traore is a decent player and important to the QPR team. I do wonder how much of the problem is a physical one and how much is mental.
That change was one of several that disrupted the game and slowed it down to a walking pace. Arsenal sent on Gervinho for Podoloski and then, after an afternoon on the end of Diakite’s clumsy feet finally did for Wilshere, Walcott for the young England international. Gervinho then picked up an injury of his own and was replaced by Arshavin while Hughes finally relented and sent on Mackie for Wright-Phillips as well as introducing Djibril Cisse for Bobby Zamora.
We were averaging a substitution every two minutes for a while there and the effect on an already tepid game was stifling. It was like using a fire hose to extinguish a match. Had I not been there to support one of the teams I’d have been bored to tears. That suited QPR of course, which made what followed even more unforgiveable.
The R’s had been lucky to survive a moment 12 minutes from time when Walcott’s cross and Giroud’s header directed the ball to Cazorla unmarked (as usual) on the penalty spot and he inexplicably smashed the chance high over the bar with a first time shot when he had enough time to have completed an oil painting of the scene had the mood taken him.
But their luck ran out when Mbia committed hara-kiri over by the corner flag. I have two theories as to Mbia’s thought process: ether he didn’t realise the free kick had been given to him, and wanted to deliberately trip Vermaelen up so he couldn’t run freely back into the penalty box; or he knew he’d got the free kick, so decided to try and injure an Arsenal player with a free-shot as it were. Either way, it was one of the thickest things I’ve ever seen a footballer do (right at the top of an ever-increasing long list) and it would eventually cost QPR the game. Mbia, bizarrely, sprinted off the field as if Rangers didn’t want the clock running down.
Arsenal should have taken advantage within two minutes but were denied in the midst of a goal mouth scramble when Cesar pulled off an extraordinary save to claw a header from Giroud out from the bottom corner and away to safety.
The Brazilian goalkeeper was incredibly unlucky to concede when he did as well having first made a world class save to deny Arteta, and then only getting beaten by the Spaniard’s third attempt in as many seconds because he’d been allowed to play on from an offside position when Ramsey diverted the ball back to him.
Cesar followed that up with another fine save down in the bottom corner when Ramsey tried his luck from range but it seemed as though the game was now simply going to peter out into a simple home win.
Not so. Rangers created their three best chances of the game in the five minutes of added time and were unfortunate not to take at least a point. First a fine through ball from Taarabt set Granero away into the penalty area but he pulled his shot wide from the corner of the six yard box. Then Mackie, now filling in at right back, embarked on a typically positive run that carried him past three Arsenal defenders into a one on one situation with Mannone but he couldn’t find the required finish.
That was one of those time-stands-still sort of moments, with Mackie accelerating forwards and Arsenal players trailing in his wake. After months of suffering it seemed unfair for Rangers to be denied that glorious moment, but they didn’t have time to dwell on it as Hoilett was fouled by Sagna on the corner of the penalty box and Granero hit the resulting free kick straight to the top corner of Mannone’s net forcing the Italian keeper to make a nervy save to preserve his side’s lead.
So once again Rangers are left to reflect on an afternoon where they can take plenty of positives, several valid excuses for a bad outcome, and no points. There’s only so long this can go on, and with gaps starting to open up at the bottom of the table and three games now against Reading, Stoke and Southampton I’d suggest QPR and Mark Hughes have reached the point where this can no longer continue. This is not about having too many injuries or too many new players needing time to gel any more, this is about a team finding ways to lose football matches through poor concentration, lack of discipline or rank stupidity.
The time for excuses is over; Rangers have to start winning right now.
Arsenal: Mannone 7, Sagna 7, Mertesacker 6, Vermaelen 6, Santos 6, Arteta 7, Wilshere 7 (Walcott 67, 6), Ramsey 6, Cazorla 7, Podolski 6 (Gervinho 71, -) (Arshavin 81, -), Giroud 6
Subs not used: Martinez, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Coquelin
Goals: Arteta 84 (assisted Ramsey)
Bookings: Giroud 59 (foul)
QPR: Cesar 9, Bosingwa 6, Nelsen 8, Mbia 6, Traore 7 (Onuoha 73, 6), Wright-Phillips 5 (Mackie 79, 6), Granero 7, Diakite 6, Taarabt 7, Hoilett 7, Zamora 5 (Cisse 72, 5)
Subs not used: Green, Ferdinand, Ephraim, Faurlin
Bookings: Granero 52 (repetitive fouling), Taarabt 86 (dissent)
Red Cards: Mbia 79 (violent conduct)
QPR Star Man – Julio Cesar 9 Not the most difficult Man of the Match decision I’m going to have to make this season. Absolutely outstanding. Grew into the game from a nervy start and kept QPR in the contest right to the death.
Referee – Anthony Taylor (Manchester) 5 Got the sending off right, but the officials should have disallowed the Arsenal goal so that’s a big decision they got wrong. I felt he was mediocre overall, booking Granero for very little, failing to award Hoilett a free kick on the edge of the box for an obvious foul, and just generally not inspiring much confidence that he had much control of a poor match that didn’t take a lot of refereeing. A poor official in my opinion.
Attendance – 60,103, (3,100 QPR) The usual poor atmosphere that we’ve come to expect from this fabulous new stadium, though to be fair to those present there was little of any interest taking place out on the field to rouse them until the final ten minutes of the game.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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