Maybe they were complacent, may be after seven consecutive victories they had overlooked certain things, but Arsenal’s impressive run came to a crashing end with a defeat at QPR.
The Gunners’ away form has been mixed all season, ranging from hard fought wins at Everton and Liverpool to disappointing defeats at Swansea and Fulham.
On Saturday afternoon at Loftus Road, Arsenal produced a mediocre performance as they lost 2-1 against a side who looked very much like a team playing for their lives.
Arsenal made two changes to the team that beat Aston Villa at home, with Aaron Ramsey surprisingly coming in for Gervinho on the left hand side.
It was Arsenal with the first real chance of the day as Walcott was brought down by Clint Hill; the subsequent free kick by Robin Van Persie was saved by Paddy Kenny. The home side were ready to concede the majority of possession to Arsenal but they steadily grew into the game and were giving defensive headaches to the visitors.
Bobby Zamora’s physical presence clearly rattled Thomas Vermaelen, who found him too big to handle. Zamora then fired the first warning to Arsenal, as he easily got above the defence to head over an Adel Taraabt free-kick. The Moroccan, clearly rejuvenated after Mark Hughes’ arrival, was influential in everything the home side were doing and it was no surprise when QPR took the lead in the 22nd minute, through Taraabt.
The Moroccon imposed himself on Vermaelen, turned him inside easily and thumped a shot past Szczesny. It was just reward for their bright performance.
Arsenal needed to get back into the game and picked up the tempo as they tried to stage another comeback. Against the run of play, they restored parity in the 35th minute.
Thomas Rosicky’s pass to Van Persie on the edge of the penalty area was turned into the path of Walcott, who hit a powerful shot that cannoned off the right post. The rebound fell to Walcott and with an open goal at his disposal he put it away for his 10th goal of the season.
QPR were rattled by the equaliser as Arsenal continued to enjoy much of the possession and Ramsey’s shot from just outside the area caused consternation in the home side’s defence. The first half ended at 1-1.
The second half began in much the similar vein with QPR letting Arsenal have the ball, sitting deep and Zamora holding off Arsenal’s defence with his physical superiority.
Gibbs’ header in the 48th minute was the only decent chance Arsenal could muster, as they lacked penetration in midfield and incisiveness upfront. Their famed quick ball movement from back to front was conspicuous by its absence, while the defence looked shaky, especially Vermaelen who had an uncharacteristically bad outing.
But out of nothing, Arsenal suddenly had a great chance to take the lead. Alex Song’s through-ball from inside the Arsenal half found Van Persie, who was onside. It resulted in a one-on-one with Paddy Kenny and the Dutchman’s rasping shot from the edge of the box, across the goal, was very well saved by Kenny. It turned out to be a pivotal save in the end.
QPR then stamped their authority on the game and regained the lead in the 66th minute. Jamie Mackie and Vermaelen battled for the ball inside the Arsenal penalty area and the latter slipped allowing Mackie to drive inside the box and cut it back to Samba Diakite on the edge of the box. The midfielder sent Szceszny the wrong way and calmly slotted it home with his right foot.
Arsene Wenger threw on Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlian as they looked to get the equalizer but to no avail. QPR defended doggedly and nearly doubled their advantage when Joey Barton’s rasping drive was saved by Sczceszny. The final minutes saw Arsenal run out of ideas as they failed to deliver the final killer ball, in fact the home side’s defence didn’t have to sweat much to protect their lead.
As Wenger alluded to in his post match press conference, there was a slight drop in the commitment and energy levels of Arsenal players. In this league you will get punished even if there is a slight slackening of intensity, especially against teams battling relegation at this stage of the season.
Wenger also seemed to get his team selection wrong. Deploying Ramsey on the left clearly didn’t work and the fact that Gervinho came on in the 68th minute did not help matters. It was a case of dragging your feet and waiting for things to happen rather than making them happen.
That Marouane Chamakh was thrown in to the mix in the final minutes was further proof of the lack of striking options. Alex Song’s dogged insistence on playing cute chip passes and through balls when he had better options at his disposal also didn’t help. Agreed he has been brilliant this season, but it felt as if he was rushing things a little bit when he may have waited a couple of seconds to assess alternatives.
Arsenal need to put up a much better performance against Manchester City at home next week if they want to stay ahead of the teams hunting them down in search of Champions League football. Despite being defensively solid over the last seven weeks, they slipped back into their early season defensive shakiness.
For the home team, it was a thoroughly deserved win. Boasting the best squad of all the relegation threatened teams, QPR seem to have finally found a way to get the better of teams at home as they followed up their thrilling comeback win over Liverpool with this solid win. With Manchester City and Manchester United set to visit Loftus Road in the coming weeks, this new found home form bodes well for them.
QPR’s victory leaves them 18th in the table, one point off survival. The loss for the Gunners means that Tottenham now have the chance to get level on points with their North London rivals, if they win their game in hand against Swansea at home.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Song, Arteta, Rosicky; Ramsey, Walcott, Van Persie.
QPR: Kenny, Diakite, Hill, Derry, Taarabt, Mackie, Barton, Taiwo, Ferdinand, Onuoha, Zamora.