Travel-sick QPR choke on Giroud's red mist – report
Saturday, 27th Dec 2014 01:06 by Clive Whittingham
A game QPR were never likely to win, and initially showed no interest in competing in, turned into a narrow defeat and missed opportunity at Arsenal on Boxing Day evening.
Oh QPR, you hopeless, mentally deficient, head cases. The footballing equivalent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
At home... a swaggering, confident, attacking, dynamo of a team. Manchester City can bring their billion pound team and have it ironed out. Liverpool's collective group of men, together, as one, committed, united, unit can be torn into while Brendan Rodgers stands on the touchline fiddling with his finger cymbals. West Brom, Leicester, Burnley, Sunderland... faced, matched, beaten. Teams score two, QPR score three.
Away from home Rangers are like an agoraphobic, claustrophobic, nervous, mute child with skin complaints on his first day at secondary school. They don't belong, they hate it, they want it over with, they have no belief, they retreat so far within themselves they almost disappear from view altogether. They're scared of the bigger boys, the smaller boys, and most of the girls as well. They just want to go home, back to an environment they're comfortable in. Carry on like this and there'll be a charity set up in their name. We'll be holding a trendy minute of applause out of sympathy.
As predicted, a Boxing Day defeat at Arsenal made it ten straight losses on the road this season, with 23 conceded and just four scored. Nine of those defeats have been in the league, matching the division's modern-era record previously held by the wretched 1996/97 Bolton Wanderers side.
Not unexpected, nor unforgivable, given an inbalanced fixture list that has taken the R's to nine of the most difficult away matches in the Premier League to begin with. For so long at Ashburton Grove, the script was written, read, rehearsed and perfected as anticipated down to every last letter, cough and dramatic pause. QPR were pathetic from the first second. Beaten before they'd even come out of the tunnel.
Harry Redknapp's rag-tag outfit seldom had the ball. When they did get it, they immediately returned it to Arsenal. Without the ball Rangers stood off, allowing space, refusing to tackle, failing to mark tightly. It was a resistance worthy of the French armed forces.
Armand Traore summed it up better than most. The Senegalese wing back, picked on the left flank as Redknapp returned to a back three formation, reminded his former club why they'd been so keen to move him on with a performance of mind-blowing uselessness. Recalled for the injured Suk-Young Yun, it took Traore only seven minutes to hand his former employers a chance to take the lead.
Alexis Sanchez, the outstanding player on the pitch, was, for once, posing little threat and moving away from the goal when Traore took it upon himself to launch into a wild, out-of-control, foolhardy sliding tackle that was doomed to failure from the moment he embarked on it. Even had he succeeded in taking the ball, it was a needless risk in a non-threatening position. Predictably, he got nowhere near the football and from a neutral position Sanchez was suddenly picking the ball up and readying himself for a penalty kick. Only Traore can explain why he would do anything so obviously stupid and needless. Don't expect to see the Senegalese tattoo enthusiast on any Christmas Mastermind specials.
Fortunately Sanchez's spot kick was weak and casual, saved well by Robert Green diving down to his left under advice from Sanchez's Chilean international team mate Eduardo Vargas. Perhaps the home team had already been lulled into a false sense of security.
Redknapp, who says he's tried “everything” to get an away result this season, recalled Rio Ferdinand for the first time since a similarly dire effort at West Ham two months ago, at the heart of a back three system not seen since a 4-0 loss at Spurs in August. Ferdinand was booked for pulling back former Man Utd team mate Danny Welbeck after being skinned – Green dived full stretch to his left to save Olivier Giroud's resulting free kick round the wall.
Later Ferdinand blocked a curled effort from the Frenchman having earlier headed a whipped cross from Sanchez straight up in the air right at the heart of the penalty box.
Ferdinand and his fellow centre halves Nedum Onuoha and Steven Caulker were determined but overworked. Onuoha slid in on Welbeck and cleared the ball for a throw, Caulker flung himself in front of a speculative effort from Santi Cazorla. Mauricio Isla, ostensibly a right wing back but more accurately described as part of a flat back five here, succeeded with a last ditch tackle on Welbeck as the England international raced clear into the penalty box after 18 minutes. The onslaught was constant, persistent, monotonous and met with almost zero resistance outside the 18 yard box.
Even by QPR's appalling standards, the ball retention here was incredible for a professional football team. They looked slow, off the pace, and, frankly, terrified from minute one. It might have been worth checking with the FA on punishments for not showing up at all if this was good as they were going to offer. Somewhere at BT Sport headquarters, a programmer was being given a stern look by a subscriptions manager. You'll struggle to see a less entertaining, less competitive game in the Premier League this season than the first hour of this nonsense.
Vargas used a rare piece of possession in the Arsenal half to pass it straight back to Per Mertesacker. Jordon Mutch, desperately poor again and constantly failing to take his chances to push for regular first team action, did likewise a minute later. Mutch's lack of willingness to show for the ball, lack of movement, lack of initiative, lack of anything effective at all did his cause no favours and typified the entire team's efforts in the first half. Niko Kranjcar was also anonymous, Charlie Austin was isolated as a result.
By the time 30 minutes had been played, Arsenal had touched the ball 60 times in the QPR defensive third – Rangers had touched it three times at the other end in return even though they kicked off. It took 22 minutes for Arsenal's Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczsney to get hands on the ball – catching a harmless, looping cross from a rare attacking free kick. On the half hour he was out as far as the halfway line, able to collect possession under no pressure whatsoever, as if pushing for a stoppage time equaliser against an opponent reduced to nine men. It was like a League Two team coming here for a day out in the FA Cup. It was embarrassing. It was soul destroying. Even in such a mismatch, you have to offer more than this surely?
Welbeck's theatrical fall in the area, trying to buy another spot kick from referee Martin Atkinson - who has never been shy of persecuting Rangers in the past - suggested Arsenal were getting a little desperate but it still felt like only a matter of time before they scored.
And so it proved. Ten minutes before the break, with QPR's flat back five in a mangled shape, and Armand Traore clocking off for a breather at the back post, Kieran Gibbs was able to run in behind and cross for Sanchez to score, unmarked, with a diving header from eight yards out. Amateur hour. Totally inevitable.
Traore is playing for his future at the club with a new left back high on the shopping list. When he's taken time out from tattooing himself, getting his hair done, and modelling ridiculous boots, Traore has flattered to deceive throughout his sporadic first team appearances but said it was time to “do something serious” when he extended his contract in the summer. He did more for Arsenal in the first 45 minutes here then he managed in the 33 appearances he made for the Gunners earlier in his career. One would think his bolt is finally shot. Watch out for revived Crystal Palace interest in January. If it comes Rangers should snap Neil Warnock's arm off at the shoulder joint. He started the second half by fouling Tomas Rosicky.
The goal sparked a rally of sorts. Steven Caulker, probably offside, skidded a diving header a foot wide of the post when a long free kick was returned to the area by Vargas. Then Austin's wild 30 yarder won the visitors' first corner, but that was easily cleared.
Perhaps QPR had been inspired by a Christmas showing of Jurassic Park, assuming Arsenal to be a footballing T-Rex with vision based on movement: stand perfectly still and it'll all be fine.
Any thoughts that an inspirational half time chat from Harry Redknapp would turn the tide were quickly extinguished when right back Mathieu Debuchy teased a low cross right through the penalty box with Alexis Sanchez unable to get a decisive touch at the back post.
And then, suddenly, hope, entirely of Arsenal's own doing. Only Rob Green will know why he decided to kick a through ball away when he could easily have caught it, and the keeper was lucky to see the ball hit the onrushing Giroud and rebound out for a goal kick rather than into the net. But it worked in favour of the west London side – Giroud, inexplicably, turned on Nedum Onuoha and headbutted him. A footballing headbutt (i.e. rugby league players everywhere will be laughing so hard they choke on their turkey buffet) but Martin Atkinson, two yards away, had no choice. A red card provided a lifeline for the Hoops. Wenger's death stare as Giroud left the field said it all. A foreign striker who likes the physical side of the English game when he's allowed to dole it out, but objects with an inflated sense of self importance when anybody tries to return it.
Inspired, Jordon Mutch made his first positive contribution with a run and low cross that just eluded Austin at the near post.
Redknapp responded by pulling the screens out and having Traore dealt with suitably. Junior Hoilett emerged from the bench as a replacement. Leroy Fer came on for Karl Henry and suddenly possession was being held in the Arsenal half.
But there was no plan. No invention. No clue. QPR didn't expect to have any of the ball in this game, and now they were getting it they had no idea what to do with it. It was like watching an elderly, deaf, alcoholic relative trying to play pass the parcel: “Do what with it? What? With this? Me? Eh? Eh? Stop yelling. Ahh sod it, you have it, leave me alone. Bloody games.”
As a result, Arsenal made light of their numerical disadvantage and scored a second goal 25 minutes from time. More feckless play in the Gunners' half set up a home team counter attack which ended with the wonderful Sanchez squaring the ball to Tomas Rosicky, making his first start of the season, to finish with a low shot that flicked off Caulker and still should have been saved by Robert Green.
That light at the end of the tunnel, not for the first time, was merely a train heading in the opposite direction.
Hoilett's introduction, also not for the first time, did not have the desired effect. A wild shot off target, a trio of hopelessly misplaced crosses, and a foul on Debuchy as he marauded forward which resulted in a yellow card. Cazorla ripped the resulting free kick over the bar. Five minutes later Hoilett deliberately tripped Sanchez and was lucky not to pick up another yellow. He, like Traore, is surely running low on lifelines in W12.
There was still no concerted pressing of the ten men when they had the ball, nor much idea or plan when the Super Hoops seized possession. How Debuchy and Sanchez were able to constantly find time and space when playing with a man less is a cause for serious concer. Debuchy in particular should have been pinned back on defensive duties, but still felt able to maraud forward. Even with a man advantage, QPR's first instinct was to retreat and back off. Arsenal were still able to work three v three and four v four attacks. It was a tactical disaster from a Queens Park Rangers point of view.
Fer kicked Mertesacker in the area – that could have been another penalty. Caulker cleared out from deep in the danger area.
But QPR kept feeding Hoilett the ball, and started having a bit of a dig. Arsenal, who've blown similar advantages already this season, started to sink. Belief started to grow among the visitors. Redknapp slung on Bobby Zamora for Mutch and he had a shot blocked, then climbed over Gibbs trying to reach a deep Hoilett cross. Nothing to be afraid of here after all. The R's are a new footballing phenomenon – a team which starts the away games beaten, and then realises it's not so bad only when time is short and the match is already gone.
Martin Atkinson's whistle stoked the fires of hope once more. Debuchy was penalised in his own area for a foul on Hoilett when the French defender appeared to cleanly toe the ball away. Charlie Austin slammed in his twelfth goal of the season from the penalty spot, beating Szczney with power rather than placement.
Arsenal sent on Calum Chambers to try and bolt the stable door - horse still inside but showing signs of heading out for an evening sojourn.
Kranjcar whipped in a corner from the right which Vargas glanced towards goal and Mathieu Flamini cleared from the line with Zamora threatening to tap home. Then a delivery from the left seemed certain to provide an equaliser for the veteran target man only for Gibbs to foul him as he went to convert the chance. Having awarded a penalty that obviously wasn't, now Atkinson turned one away that clearly was.
Sanchez was now carrying his team on his shoulders like never before. Kranjcar was booked for fouling the outstanding Chilean as he carted the ball upfield by himself, with zero support. What exactly had QPR been so terrified of?
The R's continued to batter at the door, but were let down by dreadful final passes. Junior Hoilett's delivery, often after he'd done all the hard approach work, had non-glue sniffers reaching for the UHU. A late foul on Fer by substitute Coquelin, for which he was booked, should have presented an opportunity to load the penalty box and apply pressure, but Kranjcar selfishly lashed a 35 yarder over the top and the final whistle sounded immediately afterwards.
If QPR can take three, four or even six points from their other two holiday period matches at home to Palace and Swansea, you can forgive them this against a vastly superior side they were, in theory, never likely to beat.
But, after 80 minutes of barely competing at all, only to almost snatch a point by finally hitting stride in the closing stages of the game, you have to question the negative outlook, the deep-lying shape, the mental aptitude of the team and the overall outlook. What, exactly, are we scared of? Sanchez apart, there was nothing to fear here, but QPR only realised when it was too late.
One thing Redknapp is right about on this occasion is it's people who matter, not systems. It's not formations and selections producing these meek, limp-wristed away displays, it's outlook and attitude – both the players' and the managements'.
For now, positive results against Palace and Swansea will justify this latest set back. Moving forwards, QPR cannot possibly carry this defeatist mentality into forthcoming, easier, away matches against Burnley, Stoke, Sunderland and Hull. If they do, they deserve pelters. This league is nowhere near as intimidating as Rangers are making it seem.
Arsenal: Szczsney 6; Debuchy 7, Mertesacker 5, Monreal 5, Gibbs 6; Rosicky 6 (Chambers 83, -), Flamini 5, Cazorla 6; Sanchez 8, Welbeck 6 (Coquelin 88, -), Giroud 4
Subs not used: Podolski, Ospina, Walcott, Campbell, Bellerin
Goals: Sanchez 37 (assisted Gibbs), Rosicky 65 (assisted Sanchez)
Sent Off: Giroud 52 (violent conduct)
Bookings: Coquelin 90+3 (foul)
QPR: Green 6; Isla 5, Caulker 6, Ferdinand 6, Onuoha 6, Traore 2 (Hoilett 62, 5); Mutch 4 (Zamora 72, 6), Kranjcar 5, Henry 5 (Fer 62, 5); Vargas 5, Austin 6
Subs not used: McCarthy, Hill, Phillips, Wright-Phillips
Goals: Austin 79 (penalty, won Hoilett)
Bookings: Ferdinand 26 (foul), Mutch 54 (foul), Hoilett 69 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Steven Caulker 6 At the heart of a three-centre-backs-against-the-entire-world effort for much of the match with QPR showing zero ambition and hoping to lean on him, Rio Ferdinand and Nedum Onuoha in addition to Rob Green to get them through. When the R's did eventually try and get into the Arsenal half, Caulker was more than useful as an auxiliary striker. Potentially a great player for QPR if they can establish themselves at this level.
Referee – Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire) 5 The Giroud red card was a straightforward affair but he subsequently gave QPR a penalty when Debuchy committed a clean tackle, then denied the visiting team a more obvious spot kick when Zamora was fouled trying to convert a low cross. Two wrongs may equal each other out in a strange justice, but you can't get the big decisions wrong and be marked too highly.
Attendance 59, 947* (3,000 QPR approx) QPR fans spending money and going to this deserve a medal. We've added a * because Arsenal, who have the most expensive season tickets in the league, with people paying £1,000 a time to turn up and watch a team bully the likes of QPR, fold against the better teams, and view fourth place as a roaring success, like to declare their attendances based on tickets sold rather than people actually attending. With the Shoreditch and Islington-set all out of town for Christmas and lots of upper tier corporates therefore empty, it's likely the actual attendance (you know, the people who attended the game) was a good deal lower than that.
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