Arsenal step in as QPR wilt – result
Friday, 6th Mar 2015 01:54 by Clive Whittingham
QPR ran out of fit players and ideas after a bright start against Arsenal at Loftus Road on Wednesday night, eventually slipping to a 2-1 defeat.
That QPR lost to Arsenal should be no great surprise. That so many people are being so critical about the way the loss came about reflects not only a vulnerability in Arsene Wenger’s team that QPR picked at but never penetrated in the first half, but also Rangers’ desperation for points in any form.
That, and the world of modern football and social media where every victory is life changing, and every defeat is a cataclysmic disaster for which scapegoats must be burned alive in a wicker man.
QPR were badly hamstrung before this match even kicked off. Leroy Fer and Richard Dunne are long term absentees, and Michael Doughty and Rio Ferdinand were added to the short term list before kick-off. The People’s Champion Joey Barton missed the first game of his three match suspension for being a tall tree and catching the most win i.e. punching somebody in the testicles. Mauricio Isla was fit enough only for a cameo so youth-teamer Darnell Furlong had to make only the second start of his professional career against Alexis Sanchez, a poet of a footballer with talent so exceptional you have to watch video clips back afterwards to believe what you’ve just seen.
Then there’s Harry Redknapp’s summer transfer policy, which was entirely geared towards the team playing a back-three formation this season. Having abandoned that after just two matches he left Rangers trying to field a 4-4-2 formation despite being short at right and left wing, right and left back, and centre forward. In fact, apart from players who can play in the withdrawn number 10 role behind a target man, QPR are short of just about everything. Four transfer windows, £60m, 21 permanent signings, and that’s Redknapp’s legacy.
The plan, such as it was, concocted from what was available to Chris Ramsey, was as basic as plans come. Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora played together up front and the ball was pumped long and early towards them. Matt Phillips played on the right wing and Junior Hoilett on the left, charged with taking on their full backs and delivering crosses – Phillips did; Hoilett, as usual, did not. Karl Henry and Sandro were sent in to disrupt the midfield and the addition of Nedum Onuoha at centre half alongside Caulker and in between Furlong and Suk-Young Yun made for an unusually youthful, and therefore mobile, back four.
It was football 1.1. And, for a half at least, it was plenty good enough.
Charlie Austin hit powerful shots from the edge of the area straight at goalkeeper David Ospina twice in the first 20 minutes - the first a chance of his own making, the second after Bobby Zamora had muscled some time and space for his partner. Austin ran through on goal at the midway point of the half but was flagged offside. Ospina fumbled a Hoilett cross into the danger area after the Canadian had been picked out be a sweeping crossfield ball from Furlong, but nobody was on hand to capitalise.
By the break, Arsenal’s positive contributions to the game could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Rosicky burning Yun for pace but failing to deliver a cross, and a low shot from Olivier Giroud straight at Green was as good as it got.
They were almost as bad as referee Kevin Friend, fresh from recent disasters at Bradford and Sunderland and looking like a man desperately praying no remotely borderline decisions come his way to judge. He booked Karl Henry for his first foul of the match after half an hour, a nothing tackle on Rosicky, and then did likewise to Héctor Bellerín for a trip on Junior Hoilett seconds later. Neither looked a booking to me. When Sandro then fouled Rosicky in first half injury time, and it looked a yellow card all ends up, no booking was handed out,
Giroud batting down a troublesome bouncer with the palm of his hand basketball style, then turning to run towards goal with the controlled ball at his feet, and Friend waving play on, was a particular highlight.
But poor referee or not, it couldn’t be denied that QPR were more than holding their own, and Arsenal were miles below par. A conversations in the gents at half time about how much trouble we could be in when the visitors introduced Mesut Ozil sent me scampering for a team sheet. The German World Cup winner had in fact played from the start. You’d never have known.
But QPR’s second handicap was soon to loom large on the horizon. Not only was there a lengthy list of absentees before the kick off, but a number of the players named in the matchday squad are incapable of playing 90 minutes. The club’s criminally incompetent transfer policy during the last few years has, for example, left the team inordinately reliant on Bobby Zamora, who is largely a spent force altogether and certainly declines in effectiveness from a low starting point after half time. Sandro too had clearly been signed off for 50 minutes by the medics and no more. Mauricio Isla, surely only fit enough for 20 minutes, otherwise why not bring him off the bench sooner? Or start him right back against his fellow Chilean Sanchez?
When Steven Caulker inadvertently split Nedum Onuoha’s cheek in a head clash before half time, forcing an early substitution and introduction of Clint Hill, it made the maths difficult. Ramsey would have wanted to take off Zamora, Hoilett and Sandro. In the end it was Zamora who had to play a full 90, and was totally ineffective by the end. To make matters worse, when Sandro was withdrawn the only replacement available was Niko Krsanjcar, who’s never been a man for the middle of a 4-4-2 even when he was fit, interested and playing in a good team.
The Croatian is none of those things now and contributed significantly to Arsenal’s first goal by trying a laboured flick and trick on the edge of the box against players used to playing against the finest, fittest and sharpest talents in Europe. Arsenal broke, exposed Furlong, and Giroud swept home a loose ball from close range. The Frenchman, so abject when his club really needed him against Monaco, so moany when Arsenal were on the back foot in the first half, sensed a flat track ahead of him and commenced bullying. The archetypal modern Arsenal player.
Wenger had been forced to change his centre backs in the first half too. Gabriel Paulista didn’t fancy it much, pulled up lame after a difficult 30 minutes, and Laurent Koscielny came on to replace him. The Frenchman was commanding and assertive – another who’d do well to be as dominant in a big match. While Hill and Kranjcar played poorly and weakened QPR, Arsenal’s changes made them stronger, even the enforced ones. Chris Ramsey, like I say, not blessed with a great deal of other options.
The second goal, slipped in by Sanchez at the near post, will disappoint Rob Green, but to be honest at that stage it was like the Alamo and Green was a fine last line of defence. The keeper dived full stretch to his right to save one shot from Ozil having been unsighted by a wall of defenders, then he deflected another onto the post, and finally he rushed from his line to deny Sanchez one on one after Caulker had been caught dallying in possession. Arsenal were turning the screw.
You couldn’t fault QPR too much. Karl Henry had been on a par with Sandro when the pair were together, and he battled manfully to do the work of two men when Kranjcar sauntered on – a night of hard graft that deserved greater reward. Yun, too, was excellent with and without the ball And Charlie Austin in attack was tireless – a permanent threat in front of the England manager. Eventually he succeeded where he’d failed in the first half, and Phillips had in the second from similar range, by catching Ospina out from 20 yards. A routine shot that dipped under the keeper and halved the deficit gave QPR hope, but to be honest Friend should have awarded a penalty kick when Ozil was pulled back trying to convert a chance from close range.
An Arsenal win by a single goal was fair, they’d battered away for 30 minutes in the second half and could have scored twice as many. You finish fourth every year by winning games like this, when the going is good to firm. Defeats at Stoke, against Monaco, in the cup at Bradford and so on, matter little when fourth is your aim and nothing more. Arsenal excel on nights like this and once Sandro had gone off they made hay.
Nobody typified their performance more than Giroud. Anonymous, whiny and completely ineffective in the first half, he suddenly perked up in the second and looked like a world beater. When Arsenal needed a centre forward against Monaco last week, he had the worst game of his life. That’s Arsenal. When the going gets good, Arsenal get going.
And that’s QPR. Capable of putting bits and pieces together for periods of time, but ultimately short in several positions and reliant on players who aren’t physically capable of meeting the demands of the Premier League. Chris Ramsey knew, before he even kicked off, that he’d have to take off Sandro and Zamora well before the end. When Onuoha went off in the first half it scuppered the whole thing. Sandro’s removal, and Kranjcar’s dreadful cameo, were key, but QPR had ceded much of their bright early start before that with the first change. In the end, as at Hull, there was a queue of players – Hoilett, Phillips, Zamora – who probably needed to go off but couldn’t because of the circumstances. When you admit that and then look at the quality of player we’re playing against in a match like this it’s little wonder the game was lost is it?
There are enough winnable games to come to salvage the situation – Everton, Newcastle, Villa, West Ham, Leicester, Palace, even Spurs all to play. But it’s going to need players to return from injuries, and it’s probably going to need more than punting it long to Bobby Zamora, to do it. At the moment all signs point to a similar outcome to the one we had here – not disgraced, but not quite good enough.
QPR: Green 7; Furlong 6, Caulker 5, Onuoha 6 (Hill 44, 5), Yun 7; Phillips 6, Henry 7, Sandro 7 (Kranjcar 56, 4), Hoilett 4 (Isla 73, 6); Austin 8, Zamora 6
Subs not used: Wright-Phillips, McCarthy, Vargas, Zarate
Goals: Austin 82 (assisted Phillips)
Bookings: Henry 31 (foul), Yun 79 (foul)
Arsenal: Ospina 5; Bellerin 8, Mertesacker 6, Paulista 5 (Koscielny 37, 7), Gibbs 6; Coquelin 7, Cazorla 6; Rosicky 8 (Ramsey 87, -), Ozil 5 (Welbeck 93, -) Sanchez 9, Giroud 6
Subs not used: Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Martinez, Chambers
Goals: Giroud 64 (assisted Sanchez), Sanchez 69 (assisted Gibbs)
Bookings: Bellerín 33 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Charlie Austin 8 At times in the second half he was dragging his team kicking and screaming through the game. Sandro played well but had to go off, Green played well but conceded a soft goal, Henry deserves credit for a big effort, but this was one of Austin’s best ever all round games, capped off with a fine goal. It’s clear that we’re not only fighting to maintain out top flight status, we’re also playing to keep Austin at Loftus Road. There will be a queue of takers this summer if we go down and he’s playing like this.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire) 5 A poor referee, refereeing poorly. Assisted by a linesman who didn’t give anything offside in the first half, and then in the second having presumably been reminded of the rules at half time, couldn’t put his flag down.
Attendance 17,977 (1,800 Arsenal approx) To have tickets unsold for Arsenal at home, in such important circumstances, and the same for Spurs on Saturday has to call into question the prices they’re charging, and the Lower Loft policy. Clearly parents are going to struggle bringing young kids to midweek matches. Clearly when you’re insisting on charging £53 for both matches, the walk ups are going to pick one or the other. Those who could afford it, provided the team with very decent backing.
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