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Gunners Maintain Stronghold of Third Place

Giroud lifts Arsenal team-mate Tomas Rosicky up in the air in celebration of his goal shortly after the hour mark 

QPR 1 (Austin 82′) – Arsenal 2 (Giroud 64′, Alexis 69′)

Match HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

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.

Charlie Austin scored a superb consolation goal late in the game after being given too much room by Arsenal's defence

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.

Alexis Sanchez cut in from the left hand side to score from a tight angle and end is run of eight games without a goal

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.

Sayonara.

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QPR Preview: Team News, Injury Updates and Predicted Lineups

Rosicky (left) is congratulated by his Arsenal team-mates after doubling their advantage at the Emirates

With some FA Cup coming up this weekend (unlike Arsenal that plays on Monday), there was some Premier League action yesterday with Tim Sherwood and his Aston Villa side finally getting a win after a wretched run in their bid to avoid the drop. Southampton had to leave it really late to get a win against Crystal Palace while there was a rush of blood to the head moment in Hull, as Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet almost got themselves involved in an altercation in the draw between Hull and Sunderland.

Tonight, there would be seven live matches and as expected, my business is in Loftus Road, as the Gunners take on a QPR side that are involved in a relegation dogfight and with the Premier League reaching its business end, it’s definitely not going to be any easy ride for Arsene Wenger’s men. Under twitchy old Harry Redknapp, QPR struggled to pick up any points away but they had a good home record but the R’s have won just once in their last nine outings, which includes five defeats in their last six games. Loftus Road used to be a fortress at the start of the season but they have just notched up two points from their last four home games.

QPR’s record against Arsenal is very poor with just one win over Arsene Wenger’s side in their last seven matches (W1 D1 L5). Despite the fact that the Gunners have scored 13 goals in their last 13 games against QPR, their league record at Loftus Road isn’t that impressive with one win, three draws and two defeats in their last six games but they’d take some solace in the fact that QPR are winless in their last nine London derbies (D3, L6) in the Premier League.

Team News

Arsene Wenger has praised Francis Coquelin in the wake up his consistent performances since his return to the first team this season. Since making his first PL start of the season in December, Francis Coquelin has made the most interceptions (38) and second-most tackles (39) in the whole Premier League. The French defensive midfielder has been a breath of fresh air since his introduction to the team but he’s very likely to wear a protective mask, if he’s fit enough to play tonight. In the last game against Everton, he was on the wrong end of Giroud’s show of strength, rather unfortunately.

I’d expect David Ospina to continue in goal tonight ahead of Wojciech Szczesny. The Colombian put up a very dominant performance against Everton and this was epitomized by his decision to charge down on Romelu Lukaku to win the ball. In defense, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gabriel Paulista continues ahead of Per Mertesacker. He made one glaring error in the Everton game but he grew in confidence as the game progressed. Then there was ‘that goal-saving tackle’ on Lukaku that earned him a rapturous applause at the Emirates. With Nacho Monreal still having some fitness issues, Kieran Gibbs will stead in his stead.

In midfield, I expect to see Santi Cazorla and the two-assist hero, Mesut Ozil, to play in front of the Coq, with Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott flanking Giroud. Walcott has been on a decent scoring run at Loftus Road, and he would want to continue his record there.

Injury Updates

Arsenal: Francis Coquelin (nose), Aaron Ramsey (lacking match fitness), Serge Gnabry (lack of match fitness), Mathieu Flamini (hamstring), Mikel Arteta (ankle), Abou Diaby (calf) and Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder)

QPR: Sandro, Mauricio Isla and Nedum Onouha (lacking match fitness)

Team Form

Arsenal

  • Last Five Games: L W W L W
  • Last Result: Arsenal 2 Everton 0
  • Leading Goalscorer: Alexis Sanchez (18)

QPR

  • Last Five Games: L L L W L
  • Last Result: Hull 2 QPR 1
  • Leading Goalscorer: Charlie Austin (14)

Predicted Lineups

Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin, Gabriel Paulista, Koscielny, Gibbs; Coquelin, Cazorla; Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott; Giroud

QPR: Green; Yun, Ferdinand, Caulker, Furlong; Phillips, Henry, Kranjcar, Traore; Austin, Zamora

Gooner Daily says 2-0 to the Arsenal.

Sayonara.

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Arsenal 1 QPR 0: Breakthrough for the Gunners in Wilshere’s Comeback

Breakthrough

The disappointing, toothless and shocking loss to Norwich.

The below-par and shameful loss to Schalke 04.

The feisty and somewhat uneasy AGM.

It has been on hell of a week for everyone connected with Arsenal. In our time as fans, we have witnessed our fare share of back to back defeats, but a third defeat on the bounce against a team rock bottom in the Premier League would have had many ramifications.

The defeats against Norwich and Schalke exposed the frailties in a couple of players, so it was high time Wenger used an iron fist on some of his playing personnel. I expected Andre Santos and Ramsey to be on the end of such an action but when I saw the starting line-up yesterday, I was filled with a renewed sense of optimism.

A fit-again Bacary Sagna replaced Carl Jenkinson while Aaron Ramsey replaced Gervinho on the wings with Olivier Giroud coming back into the attacking fold. The biggest news of all, was seeing Jack Wilshere play his first Premier League game in 17 months, wearing the sacred No. 10 jersey that has been worn by legends like Dennis Bergkamp as well as arseholes like William Gallas and Robin van Judas Iscariot Per$i£.

QPR had a very woeful away record in the Premier League as they had amassed just a point from a possible 33 with their last maximum points away being a victory over Stoke in November 2011. Mark Hughes spoke about his fears of Wilshere starting for the Gunners and it’s fair to say that his nightmare became a reality.

Sagna and Ramsey worked well on the right with Sagna using his burst of pace to evade ex-Gunner, Armand Traore, before drilling the ball into the box. Pepe Diakhite was on hand to block the cross from getting into his danger area.

Every touch of the ball from Wilshere was met with a rapturous roar from the Emirates faithful, which propelled the young Englishman to put up a show to savor. Wilshere’s first telling contribution was to waltz into a pocket before firing the ball across the goalmouth but no Gunner was around to kill off the chance. Wilshere was on the thick if things again, as he lofted a cross to Ramsey, but the Welshman’s header hit the cross bar and went over.

Wilshere continued to run the show, as he executed a neat one-two with Santi Cazorla before blasting a rather tame shot goalwards but Julio Cesar spilled the shot and smothered it in his second attempt.

Andre Santos had a stinker against Schalke on Wednesday, but he was exposed yet again by Shaun Wright-Phillips. However, Thomas Vermaelen tracked back to cover Andre Santos’ tracks this time.

Giroud wasn’t having much joy up front, but he managed to slam a shot from quite some distance, giving Cesar a chance to parry the ball for a corner. When Vito Mannone was faced with such a situation last week, he parried the ball straight into his danger area, allowing Grant Holt to kill off the contest.

Late in the first half, Andre Santos fashioned a chance for himself with his right foot, but that was easy pickings for Cesar.

Arsenal began the second half with more urgency as Per Mertesacker nodded Mikel Arteta’s dead ball with a goal-bound header, but Cesar was on hand to make a good save. That was the first of a plethora of saves from the former Brazil No. 1.

QPR came off their shells when Adel Taarabt and Esteban Granero created a chance for Junior Hoilett with a delicate chip but the Canadian forward strayed fractionally offside. Wright-Phillips continued to get the better of Andre Santos before crossing a ball was almost attacked by Bobby Zamora but Vermaelen made a superb interception to avert the danger. Shortly afterwards, it was Sagna’s turn to make another vital interception to pick the ball off Hoilett’s pocket.

Arsene Wenger brought in the calvary in the form of Theo Walcott and Gervinho for Wilshere and Lukas Podolski. I guess I didn’t get my wish of seeing Podolski play for 90 minutes.

Gervinho almost made an instant impact when he evaded a defender before firing his shot into the side netting. The first glaring chance of the game arrived when Walcott sent a cross into the box that was knocked down on a platter for Santi Cazorla in the penalty spot but the Spanish magician blasted his effort over the bar.

In the previous two games, Arsenal failed to create any chance whatsoever but against QPR, they were back to their profligate best.

The pendulum of the game swung in Arsenal’s favor courtesy of an act of sheer stupidity by QPR’s Stephane M’Bia. With Arsenal fighting hard for that all-important goal, it was expected for the players to be combative and this was on display when Vermaelen and M’Bia raced to the corner flag with the ball as a worthy price. Vermaelen shoved M’Bia in his attempt to get the ball, earning QPR a free kick but a dysfunctional chip went haywire in M’Bia’s head as he kicked the Arsenal skipper in retaliation, rightly earning a red card for his stupidity.

Minutes after the sending off, Gervinho was on the end of a swift counter attack launched by Arsenal but after sending his cross across the box, he hit the turf and couldn’t get up again. After some treatment from Arsenal’s medical staff, a stretcher was brought into the pitch, and Andrey Arshavin was brought on to replace the substitute.

With minutes slowly fading away, Cesar showed off his amazing reflexes when he responded quickly to intercept an imminent own goal from Ryan Nelsen.

However, Arsenal’s breakthrough arrived when Arshavin dinked a cross into the box that was headed goalwards by Giroud, causing Cesar to make another spectacular save. Ramsey and Jose Bosingwa charged for the ball which was floated into Arteta’s path but the Spaniard’s header hit the cross bar and he slotted in the rebound to send the Emirates into rapture.

Many debated that the goal was offside, but I’ll let them know when I give two fledgling fucks.

Ramsey and Santi Cazorla had chances to put the game beyond doubt but Cesar continued to make more impressive saves. In the dying moments of the game, QPR almost delivered a sucker punch when Taarabt floated an over-the-top pass to Granero but the Spanish midfielder fired a rather panicky shot, despite having a great first touch. Stand-in right back, Mackie made a slalom run that saw him evade a host of Arsenal players but Mannone stood his ground to make the save that was the difference between a win and a draw.

When Sagna fouled a player at the edge of the box, chills went down my spine and my heart leapt from my chest to my mouth when Granero fired the shot but it hit the side netting. The ref’s whistle was like music to my ears, as Arsenal has finally secured that all-important win before the trip to Old Trafford to face van Judas Iscariot and his fellow Devils.

Mannone (7.0) made a vital save at the end of the game and finally secured a clean sheet, a feat he hadn’t achieved in a while.

Andre Santos (6.5) put up a better show than that torrid outing he endured on Wednesday’s night.

Sagna (7.0) was a breath of fresh air and his fight with Carl Jenkinson has begun in earnest.

Vermaelen (8.0) was very combative and made a couple of vital interceptions.

Mertesacker (7.5) nullified the threat Bobby Zamora posed.

Arteta (7.5) scored the goal that brought Arsenal’s breakthrough.

Wilshere (8.5) was ubiquitous on the pitch and was always involved in every attack till his substitution.

Cazorla (7.0) had a good game but he could have done better with the chance he had.

Ramsey (7.5) worked really hard for his team.

Giroud (7.0) provided a good focal point for the attack and was unlucky not to score the winning goal with that thunderous header late on.

Podolski (7.0) put up a very efficient outing and protected his left back well.

Walcott (7.0) instilled some life into the Arsenal attack with his pace.

Arshavin (7.0) crossed the ball that instigated the scramble that led to the match clincher.

Gervinho didn’t play long enough to get a rating.

Unlike the Norwich and Schalke games where Arsenal was piss poor, a victory was no less than the Gunners deserved for the effort they put into this game. Despite the heroics of Julio Cesar, the Gunners kept pushing till the end and they managed to grind out a result against all odds.

As the saying goes, that’s what champions are made of.

Sayonara.

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