Goal: Arteta (83)
Mikel Arteta’s controversial goal gave Arsenal all three points against a QPR side who played the last 10 minutes with 10 men after M’bia was shown a red card.
Arsenal lined up with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Vito Mannone started at the goal. Vermaalen was paired with Mertesacker at the center of the defence. Bacary Sagna started at right back for the first time this season, and Andre Santos continued to replace the injured Kieran Gibbs at left back. In central midfield, Jack Wishere started a league game for the first time in 17 months and was paired with Mikel Arteta. Podolski was on the left, and Ramsey was on the right. Cazorla was behind Giroud who started as the central striker.
Arsenal started the game with urgency and pressed on for an early goal with Wilshere especially lively in the center providing some much needed penetration. Four minutes into the game, Giroud headed down Mannone’s clearance to Wilshere in the center circle. The midfielder burst forward, played the ball to Podolski on wide left, continued his run to overlap the German and received the return ball. His low cross, however, bypassed three Arsenal players in the 6-yard box. Minutes later Podolski and Cazorla combined, and the Spaniard released Andre Santos on the left. The recently under fire left back’s low cross took a deflection, and wrong footed Cesar in the QPR goal, but the goalkeeper cleared the ball away as Giroud arrived to pounce. Around the 10th minute mark, Wilshere found Sagna on the right, and the right back’s early cross was met by Ramsey whose header in a difficult position bounced off the bar.
Arsenal kept plugging away, yet their narrow shape meant that they relied too much on Wilshere and Cazorla’s penetration from central areas. Around the 20th minute, Wilshere dribbled away from Granero and played a quick one-two with Cazorla. His shot from the edge of the box was spilled by Cesar, but the goalkeeper dived and collected before Cazorla could get to the ball.
After the first 20 minutes, Arsenal’s attacking promise slowly waned, and QPR started exploiting the space behind Andre Santos (Arsenal’s soft belly as we have seen against Schalke). A quick QPR build-up released Bosingwa on the right, but the Portuguese right back’s low cross inside the box was intercepted by Vermaalen. Minutes later, Shaun Wright-Philipps cut inside from wide right, but his shot did not really trouble Mannone.
The rest of the half saw QPR gaining confidence and being able to hold the ball in Arsenal’s half with Taarabt and Hoilett’s dribbling skills easing off Arsenal pressure. Arsenal’s movement in attack became increasingly predictable due to their narrow shape. Placing Ramsey on the right wing away from home, especially when Arsenal play with a natural winger (Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain) on the other wing, allows Arsenal to have an extra man in central areas. But against tight defences at home, it is not really helpful as it simply enables the opposition to crowd the center. The only other Arsenal chance of the first half came when after good build-up on the left, Giroud fired a low shot from the left edge of the box, which was parried away by Cesar. The half petered out with Arsenal not being able to regain the urgency they displayed in the first 15 minutes.
The second half did not really bring about the much expected Arsenal onslaught. Except an early chance when Arteta’s delivery in a set piece was headed by Mertesacker and forced Cesar to make a very good save, QPR looked comfortable in defence. In fact, it was visible that QPR thought they can catch Arsenal on the break as their forward forays became increasingly dangerous. Shortly after the hour mark, Taarabt’s brilliant diagonal ball found Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right. The winger’s inviting cross was intercepted by Vermaalen just before Zamora capitalized in the six yard box. Later, when Granero’s over the top ball searched for Hoilett’s dangerous run, Sagna made another crucial interception.
With visible signs that QPR was going for a win, Wenger addressed Arsenal’s width problem and took off Wilshere (who had a very decent one hour performance), sent in Walcott to the right wing and moved Ramsey to the center. Gervinho also replaced Podolski on the left wing. With two natural wingers, Arsenal started attacking with more purpose and missed their biggest chance of the game so far: Ramsey found Walcott wide on the right. Giroud attacked the winger’s delicious cross and the ball bounced off Diakite towards Cazorla standing on the penalty spot. The Spanish playmaker had all the time in the world and was under no pressure, but he blasted the ball high over the bar. Cazorla then released Gervinho on the left channel with a brilliantly weighted through ball, but the Ivorian’s cut back was blocked by Bosingwa. Gervinho was injured in that instance and was replaced with Arshavin.
A crucial moment arrived 10 minutes from time, when M’bia clattered Vermaalen off the ball (after he was fouled by Arsenal’s captain) and was shown a straight red card. Against 10 men, Arsenal now desperately wanted the win, but Cesar made an incredible save when he fingertipped a ball on the line after an Arsenal corner was not cleared. The home side finally found the goal they were searching for 6 minutes from time. Arteta’s ball left Arshavin one on one with Mackie who was forced to play right back after M’bia’s red card. The Russian tricked his way past Mackie and delivered a peach of a cross into the box, which was headed with power by Giroud. Cesar again made a great save, Ramsey’s attempt to finish the rebound bounced off to Arteta who was offside, and the Spaniard forced the ball in after two attempts on the goal line. It was not pretty, it was offside, but it was what Arsenal needed.
As one would expect from Arsenal, in the last 5 minutes and the 5 minute of extra time, QPR found two chances to salvage a point despite being a man down. First, Granero controlled Taarabt’s over the top ball in the box, but his shot narrowly missed the far post. In the third minute of extra time, Mackie made a brilliant solo run from a deep wide right position beating Arteta, Andre Santos and Vermaalen on his way into the 6 yard box, but Mannone prevented a certain equalizer.
After a horrible past week, it was a game in which only one thing mattered, and that was the three points. Arsenal were far from convincing, but with Wilshere and Sagna already back from long injury layoffs and hopefully Diaby, Gibbs, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Szczesny joining them soon, the team found some breathing space before the big encounter next week at Old Trafford.