Gunners Maintain Stronghold of Third Place
QPR 1 (Austin 82′) – Arsenal 2 (Giroud 64′, Alexis 69′)
Damn! I’ve never seen a race for Champions League qualification so intense in a very long while. Back in the days, it was the usual Arsenal vs. Tottenham duel with the Gunners nicking past their fierce rivals to the coveted Champions League spot. This season, it’s a very different ball game. Tottenham is currently seventh and they eased past Swansea, Southampton in sixth left it late to get all three points against Crystal Palace, Liverpool continued their resurgent form with a routine win over Burnley and Tim Krul’s sheer moment of stupidity gifted Manchester United maximum points against Newcastle.
With Chelsea and Manchester City winning as well, it was paramount for the Gunners to get a positive result against a QPR side battling to preserve their Premier League status. Arsene Wenger shuffled his squad with Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting breathers. This offered Per Mertesacker a chance to return to the first team setup after his disappointing outing against AS Monaco. In fairness to the big German, he had a very good game and he used his height effectively to make a lot of headed clearances, as the home side used the wings and whipped in a lot of balls for Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora.
On the downside, the new kid on the block, Gabriel Paulista, suffered what proved to be a hamstring injury which was later confirmed by Wenger in his post-match press conference. The gaffer confirmed that the Brazilian will be out for at least three weeks, which means that the Mertesielny combination would continue in the coming weeks and the Gunners would be one central defensive injury away from disaster yet again.
The game itself had a nervy feel about it with QPR’s Charlie Austin at the heart of everything good from an attacking perspective. The English forward had a lot of close shaves in the course of the game but finally got rewarded late on with a goal that brought up the nerves as the game reached its climax.
The first half saw QPR attack the Gunners with more urgency but there was no cutting edge from both teams. Alexis had a couple of tame efforts but the major talking both of the first half arrived when Tomas Rosicky did really well to evade his markers before drilling a cut back to Mesut Ozil. Karl Henry clearly impeded the German as he slid in but Arsenal’s appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears. Ozil had an effort later on in the second half that clipped the post though. David Ospina was the busier of the goalies in the course of the game and he made a very intelligent save from a Matt Phillips in-swinger.
Arsenal’s breakthrough arrived when Alexis Sanchez teed up Kieran Gibbs I behind the QPR defense and with a stroke of luck, his cutback fell to Giroud’s path and the Frenchman wasted no time in blasting the ball past Robert Green to make it one goal to the Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez would have been very disappointed that he failed to capitalize on defensive error that saw him spurned a clear-cut opportunity but he atoned for that miss with a brilliant piece of individual skill that saw him take on his markers before beating Green on his near post.
As mentioned earlier, Ozil had a chance to make it three but his effort hit the goal post and crept away. Austin’s goal brought QPR back into the game but the Gunners did well to soak the pressure. Wenger also brought on Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck to calm the storm and Ramsey had one of those his frustrating moments when he tried to dribble his way through three or four markers when a simple pass to t a teammate would have been a better option.
Nonetheless, it was a good result for the Gunners and all eyes will be at Old Trafford for what will undoubtedly be the Gunners game of the season. The FA Cup offers the Gunners the best chance of winning a trophy this season. They’d need to prove to the world that they can defend their crown in a ground they have been so poor in recent years.
More on that in the coming days.
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