Arsenal vs. QPR: 5 Keys to a Gunners Victory
Arsenal need to bounce back from their tame draw at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Gunners take on Queens Park Rangers on Saturday in their second straight home game against opposition they are expected to beat.
The Wolves game demonstrated that Arsenal must learn to be more efficient in front of goal. They must also find the extra creativity needed to engineer more one-on-one scoring opportunities.
The Rangers are just about managing to avoid being drawn into the bottom three. They have struggled for results in recent weeks, but still possess players who can cause Arsenal some real problems.
A repeat of the failure to take their chances or any lapses in concentration could well be punished by Neil Warnock's side.
Here are five keys to defeating Rangers and ensuring that Arsene Wenger's team ends 2011 on a high and enters 2012 with some momentum.
5. Combat Heidar Helguson's Aerial Threat
Arsenal will need to deal with the aerial prowess of Rangers' leading scorer Heidar Helguson. The Icelandic striker is a tenacious and determined presence in the air.
Much of the focus will be on Per Mertesacker who has drawn his fair share of criticism since signing from Werder Bremen. After enduring a few shaky moments earlier in the season, Mertesacker has become steady, if not dominant.
The German international needs to become more decisive and assertive and start using his natural height advantage.
4. Work in Tandem to Subdue Adel Taarabt
Wide players like Gervinho will have to double up with Arsenal's makeshift full-backs and contain the threat QPR pose down the flanks.
In particular, the Gunners will have to work hard in wide areas to subdue Moroccan wing ace Adel Taarabt. The temperamental forward has the skill and trickery to outwit any defense when motivated.
Given Arsenal's recent struggles accommodating natural central defenders in the full-back positions, Taarabt might offer QPR's best route to goal.
But Arsenal have the pace in wide areas to track Taarabt and offer vital cover for Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou.
3. Do Not Become Distracted by Joey Barton's Inevitable Antics
Arsenal players simply cannot allow themselves to be distracted by the disruptive presence of Joey Barton.
Aside from the obvious footballing threat posed by a midfielder as talented as Barton, the QPR talisman is also a master at enraging the opposition. Barton's provocation and antics for Newcastle United led to Gervinho's dismissal and cost the Gunners all three points on the opening day of the season.
Arsenal have been guilty of losing their cool on more than one occasion when faced with a player who enjoys getting a rise out of them.
They allowed themselves to lose focus when presented with perennial antagonist Stephen Hunt against the Wolves. The Gunners cannot afford to make the same mistake twice.
It is no coincidence that controversy and incident seem to follow Barton from game to game. Arsenal must remain disciplined and avoid being drawn into any chaos.
2. Target Armand Traore
Arsenal should design most of their attacking play to target calamitous former teammate Armand Traore. The young Frenchman is prone to rash decisions and fatal lapses in concentration.
One idea might be to move Gervinho over to the right side and let the Ivory Coast forward use his trickery and ball skills to attack Traore and force an error.
Traore is blessed with tremendous pace, but his judgement is poor. The Gunners need to fire several passes inside and over Traore.
Clever running around Traore from Arsenal's forward line should reap huge rewards for Wenger's team.
1. Get Aaron Ramsey on the Ball as Often as Possible
Arsenal must ensure that Aaron Ramsey gets on the ball as often as possible. The Gunners must start to make the talented Welsh youngster the focal point of their possession play.
With Alex Song and Mikel Arteta often rotating in deeper positions, Ramsey is usually the most advanced player in Arsenal's midfield trio.
Ramsey is working hard to assume the role of chief playmaker for the Gunners. A lot of his attempts at creativity have failed to come off in recent games, but the ideas are there. The only way to help Ramsey develop into the natural successor to Cesc Fabregas and reach his potential is to ensure that he sees plenty of the ball.
The more opportunities the former Cardiff City prodigy gets to develop and refine his game, the more effective and influential he will become.
Arsenal Must End the Year on a High and Keep Pace with Chelsea
After their nightmare start to the season, ending the year with a win and staying a single point shy of the top four would represent a remarkable turnaround by Arsenal.
It is vital that the club enters 2012 with some positive momentum. Four points from the last three games has dampened some of the enthusiasm surrounding the club's recent excellent run.
Chelsea remain Arsenal's most realistic target at the present time. The Gunners must take maximum points on Saturday and keep the pressure on their London rivals heading into the new year.