QPR vs. Arsenal: Complete Premier League Preview
The last three games of the season won't really matter to QPR, but they could help to define Arsene Wenger's legacy as Arsenal manager.
The bottom line is that if the Gunners win their final three games, they have a very good chance of finishing in the top four, even if the goal is not entirely in their own hands.
At least they have something to play for.
The story has been written for Harry Redknapp's Rangers side. The ink is dry, the book closed. It's all over; the Hoops will be playing in the Championship next season. In truth, it is no less than this severely underperforming team of mercenaries deserves.
No matter what either Redknapp or his floundering predecessor Mark Hughes tried, QPR simply would not coalesce around a central uniting force. Ryan Nelsen become something of an inspiration to his bumbling team, but his midseason retirement robbed them of their best leader.
On paper, their five-spiral dive does not seem possible. After all, the lineup that Redknapp puts out every week is studded with internationals who have experience at the highest levels of European football.
Players like Christopher Samba, Junior Hoilett and Bobby Zamora, just to name a few, have been massively disappointing, despite the hefty wages they earn at Loftus Road.
Meanwhile, Adel Taarabt has continued to be his selfish, moody, inconsistent self.
The likes of Samba, Julio Cesar, Jose Bosingwa, Andrew Johnson and Park Ji-Sung are unlikely to return to play in the Championship next year. On paper, then, QPR should lack the motivation that is required to contest Arsenal.
But the Gunners have fallen into the trap of complacency numerous times in the past, and must be wary of looking at Rangers' points total, seeing their relegation and assuming that they will be a cupcake opponent.
Arsene Wenger must remind his men that QPR are still a team that is filled with footballers that are very dangerous on their days, and might be trying to impress suitors ahead of a summer move.
Plus, professional athletes generally possess a certain will to win at all times. It never feels good to be blown out in front of one's own fans.
Nevertheless, if Arsenal approach the game with the right attitude and Wenger fields the correct lineup, they should do just fine.
Wojciech Szczesny should continue in goal following promising displays in his first couple matches back from the bench.
The back four should remain intact, with the exception of Bacary Sagna, whose languid performance against Manchester United might be another nail in the coffin of his Arsenal career. There is no reason not to give the spry Carl Jenkinson a chance at right-back.
The midfield picture is not quite as clear. Mikel Arteta and the recently stellar Aaron Ramsey will almost certainly retain their places in the center of the pitch, but Wenger will have to decide who play as an attacking midfielder.
Part of his decision will stem from who starts at striker. If Lukas Podolski retains his place up front (which is questionable following a thoroughly mediocre display last weekend), then Santi Cazorla will likely start on the left wing.
That allows either Jack Wilshere or Tomas Rosicky to spearhead the midfield. If the Englishman is fit enough, it will be difficult for Wenger to keep him on the bench.
A front three of Cazorla, Podolski and Theo Walcott is conceivable. Because Arsenal are playing such a poor opponent, the latter might actually get a chance to play through the middle, which would open the door for either Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gervinho on the right wing.
Either way, Wenger is flush with options. But no starting XI will beat QPR without the single-minded determination with which Arsenal have approached their last several fixtures during a run that has seen them take 20 points from a possible 24.
When the game kicks off on Saturday at 12:30 pm ET, be sure to follow along with my live blog for what is, I quite humbly submit, the best live analysis available anywhere on the Internet—including Piers Morgan's Twitter feed.
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