Arsenal's Seven-Game Winning Streak Ends at QPR
I'm never one to criticise Arsenal too much when they lose, as long as the players have given their all for the cause. Having won seven Premier League games in a row, Arsenal went to Queens Park Rangers yesterday looking to continue their fantastic run.
They faced a team in the relegation zone who were struggling for their survival, and they needed to be at their best if they were going to emerge victorious.
Unfortunately the complacent face of the Arsenal team showed itself again, and the players quite simply didn't raise their game to the level required. That meant it was always going to be a struggle, but Arsenal still had enough quality to get something out of the game.
With Arsenal not firing on all cylinders in attack, it was vital that mistakes at the back were kept to a minimum, but nobody told Thomas Vermaelen.
Vermaelen is a very good player defensively and he also adds a lot to the team in an attacking sense. Occasionally he makes a slip at the back, and yesterday his two errors proved very costly for Arsenal.
I'm sure he will look back on the game and feel he could and should have done an awful lot more for both QPR goals.
I'm not trying to pin the blame for the defeat on Vermaelen though, because Arsenal simply didn't create enough clear-cut chances at the other end, too. Besides the goal Theo Walcott scored and an excellent chance for Robin van Persie, I seldom felt Arsenal would actually score.
Arsene Wenger picked his strongest defence as he sees it, although Andre Santos must surely be champing at the bit for a return at left back.
In midfield, the usual recent trio played, and the only real change was the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey in a position which I suppose was meant to be wide on the left.
It meant the more natural wide players like Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were on the bench yet again for an away game.
Will Arsenal finish third this season?
I think Wenger wanted the stability offered by Ramsey rather than the attacking flair of the other two, but it certainly didn't work. I thought Ramsey came inside far too much and it left Arsenal's play more compressed than it should be.
QPR defended in numbers whenever they didn't have the ball, and Arsenal needed to use the full width of the pitch to attempt to break them down. Playing Ramsey only helped the cause of the home team, and it made things much more difficult for Arsenal.
Ramsey played that role in the last away game against Everton, and he was not at his best then, either. I understand the need to include him in the team, but Tomas Rosicky is ahead of him at the moment in his preferred role, and he should just have to wait for his opportunity.
It is far more important to get the overall balance of the team right than to play certain players out of position because they maybe deserve a game.
If it was a case of Wenger being worried about the attacking threat posed by QPR, I am sure Chamberlain would have been more than prepared to do all that was required of him defensively as well.
With the balance of the team not right, it was crucial that Arsenal were at their best, but unfortunately that wasn't to be, either. There were chances for Arsenal to make things happen, but there were just as many for their opponents.
Arsenal opened brightly but QPR got a firm foothold as the first half progressed. It wasn't really a surprise when they took the lead after 22 minutes through Adel Taarabt. It was a surprise that he was the goal scorer, though, as he had failed to score a single goal in almost 70 attempts prior to the game.
The ball was played to his feet outside the Arsenal box, and he showed some very neat footwork to turn Vermaelen.
I'd love to know where the Arsenal cover was when Vermaelen was beaten, but Taarabt advanced on goal before finishing excellently into the corner past Wojciech Szczesny. It was the boost QPR needed, and Arsenal were going to have to work a lot harder to get anything out of the game.
Arsenal did gradually begin to exert some pressure on QPR, but when the equaliser, came it was out of nowhere. RVP did very well to poke a ball through to Walcott just inside the QPR box, and his first-time shot came back off the inside of the post. Walcott was on hand to meet the rebound, and he needed to be at his best to make sure he slotted it home.
There wasn't long to go to halftime and Arsenal surged forward in search of the lead. QPR just about held out until the break, but the equaliser had shifted the momentum firmly in Arsenal's favour.
The second half started off in the same vein with Arsenal pressing forward, and looking to get the crucial next goal. The best chance fell to RVP when he was played through on Paddy Kenny in the QPR goal, but his shot was excellently saved.
That seemed to take the wind out of Arsenal's sails just a little, and QPR gradually worked their way back into the game.
It didn't take them long to regain the lead, and again it came after a Vermaelen mistake. He slipped when faced with a one-on-one situation with Jamie Mackie on the left just outside the Arsenal penalty area.
It enabled Mackie to get past him and pick out Samba Diakite, who calmly slotted the ball past Szczesny. The Arsenal cover was again found wanting when Vermaelen slipped, and Bacary Sagna had two players to try to cover.
Sagna did what every good defender should do and covered the player nearest to the goal, but with no midfielders to be seen, it left Diakite free to score. Maybe the other Arsenal payers felt Vernaelen is so good that they should all automatically move forward when he is faced with a one-on-one situation with an opponent.
Obviously they shouldn't think that way, but their inability to respond properly led to both QPR goals in my opinion.
Arsenal had 24 minutes left to turn things around, but they rarely looked like even taking a point from the afternoon's work. Wenger quickly withdrew Ramsey and replaced him with Gervinho, but his mental strength is still in question since the events at the African Cup of Nations. I felt Chamberlain would have been a far better option at that stage.
Inside the final 10 minutes, Wenger brought both Chamberlain and Marouane Chamakh on in place of Mikael Arteta and Kieran Gibbs. It left the team with very little shape, and it was hardly surprising that they failed to create much in those final minutes. There were four added minutes, but Arsenal never really created a clear-cut chance in that time.
When the final whistle went, I felt a huge sense of disappointment at the loss of a chance to open a six-point gap over fourth-placed Spurs ahead of their game against Swansea. With Chelsea scoring two late goals to beat Villa, it means Arsenal are now only five points clear of them, too.
The remaining seven games will be very nervous affairs for Arsenal fans, and the players simply have to give more in those games than they did yesterday.
Arsenal had a few shouts for penalties in the game, but despite the ball hitting QPR players' hands on occasions, I don't think they should have been given. I was less than happy with the referee allowing players to be shoved off the ball at times, but he allowed it to happen to both teams.
With a referee allowing players to be as physical as they wanted to be, Arsenal struggled to contain Bobby Zamora in the first half.
Zamora used his physical strength to give Vermaelen a very uneasy afternoon, and I think it may have contributed to Vermaelen's mistakes.
It was unusual to see Vermaelen so rattled at times, and hopefully he will be back to his very best against Manchester City next week. That game is one which both teams have to win, and it should make for a great game.
Another gripe I had with the referee's performance was his inability to penalise QPR for encroaching at free kicks. It seems to happen in just about every game at the moment, and I think it's about time something was done about it.
I saw a South American game on TV a few months ago where the referee marked the pitch with a spray paint to indicate where the defensive team should stand.
It looked like a great idea to me, and surely it would make the referee's job that bit easier. As always, I don't expect the football authorities to act quickly on any new ideas, but one day they might just surprise me.
Let's just hope yesterday as a temporary blip for Arsenal, and they can return to winning ways next week. I'm sure Wenger will let the players know in no uncertain terms that they will have to perform an awful lot better against City.
Then again, they will have to perform an awful lot better, no matter who the opponents are, to win in the Premier League.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights of yesterday's game.
See you tomorrow.
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