The final line of yesterday’s blog read – “A great performance would be nice, but I’ll take the three points any way we can get them.”
I wasn’t expecting a goal after 20 seconds and then 89.5 minutes + stoppage time of increasing torture and nerves. Let me be straight – I’m extremely happy about the three points. They are wonderful, precious and valuable. I cherish them, am in love with them and would buy them flowers if I could.
But man, do we know how to put ourselves through the wringer. It wasn’t even that QPR were particularly good. They had a couple of chances, which is natural enough, and we were never under any sustained pressure, but 1-0 is such slender advantage during a game that it’s impossible to feel comfortable at all. One slip, one moment of brilliance from some bloke who’ll never do anything like it again (this is known as being Neil Mellored), a dodgy decision, and it all comes tumbling down.
It’s made even more nervy by the fact we never really looked like scoring again after Walcott’s early opener. There was that shot which hit the post after a good save by Green, but we were restricted to long shots after going through a period where we decided shooting was distasteful and beneath us.
Verily did the Arsenal forsake their cannon;
choosing instead to tickle their foe;
with gossamer sideways passes.
Then we had a few pops at goal and Green dealt with them easily enough, but although Walcott got the champagne post match for his winning strike, it should have been Wojciech Szczesny glugging the Moet. Midway through the second half Townsend (I’m sure, because he was the most dangerous player on their side) fizzed in a cross or a corner which was heading for the bonce of Loic Remy, but the Pole got a big paw on it to get it away. And when Remy curled an 83rd minute shot which was going into the bottom corner, he pulled off one of his best saves this season to ensure we stayed ahead.
There’s those margins again. No room to drop points, no room to concede even one, because we look like a team that knows how tight it all is and inhibited by the demands of these last three games. A 20th second opener didn’t liberate us or free us to play with the kind of freedom and verve we used to, it made us all too aware how our slim our advantage was.
It’s worth repeating that at this point of the season points are all that matters. I stand by that completely, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t room to analyse our performances. To me it feels like we’re riding our luck a little bit of late. Away from home it’s been toe-curlingly, nail-bitingly, hair-pullingly (if you have any) fretful. I can’t imagine there was only one person twitching yesterday.
Those final minutes against West Brom, the way we struggled against 10 man Fulham, and how yesterday we never managed to get on top of a game we really should have. Our lack of firepower and options up front certainly had an impact yesterday. On the face of it it’s hard to criticise Theo Walcott, he scored the winner and hit the post, but in the second half he made only 3 passes … in 45 minutes! That’s bonkers. I know he’s not a guy who is 100% comfortable on the ball when Arsenal are playing it around, but you need players to have more impact than that.
By comparison, Lukas Podolski (who found it tough again as the main striker), made 14, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (an 85th minute sub) made 9 and Jack Wilshere (89th minute) made 4. If we’re looking for reasons why we didn’t click as an attacking unit, then that goes a long way to explain it. His impact on the game was telling, the goal won us the points, but his overall lack of contribution made it more difficult for us to make the game safe.
For all the criticisms of him, I think we missed Giroud, a natural centre-forward who provides us with a focal point up top, and the lack of creativity in the team makes games like this all the more difficult. There’s no faulting the effort but without somebody who can see the run, make the pass, find that bit of space, then it’s always going to be difficult. Cazorla can do it, but I’m not sure he had anybody doing enough in front of him. When Rosicky did put Walcott through, his first touch let him down and they got it clear.
It could be nerves, could be pressure, could be the lack of quality in the final third, or a combination of all of those things, but I just worry that sooner or later a one goal lead won’t be enough. We’ve played 23 games in 2013, won 13, but only 5 of those games have been with a margin of more than one goal. We are, literally, grinding and scrapping out wins. And look, that’s a good thing, in itself, I like that we can do it now, but it doesn’t do much for my blood pressure.
With only two games left this season, Arsene Wenger pointed to momentum after the game, saying:
We definitely have momentum. If you look at the points we have made compared to two months ago. We are going for it and we make the points. Away from home recently, we’ve won everywhere – at Fulham, at Sunderland, at Swansea and at QPR.
At the end of the season, all things going well, those points will prove incredibly important. How we got them won’t matter, but with two games left, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that we might need to improve our performances in order to get the wins we’ll need. Both Wigan and Newcastle will be fighting for survival, that adds another edge to the games, and I think we’re going to need to play better in those games than we did yesterday.
What we now have is 10 days to prepare, to rest the legs, work out the aches and strains, and hope that other results go our way over that period. Didn’t 1-0 to the Arsenal used to be a bit more fun than this?!