I guess the good run had to come to an end at some stage, but that it came to a team managed by Mark Hughes and that it was largely a defeat of our own making makes it more frustrating.
We didn’t play as well as we have done in recent weeks, no doubt about it, falling short of the standards we’ve set in most of the games. That said, I think we played better yesterday than we did against Liverpool, for example, yet from that game we came away with three points due to the genius of Robin van Persie. Yesterday he clearly didn’t want to score.
After a bright opening few minutes QPR got back in the game through sheer hard work, which was hardly unexpected. We knew they’d play that way. It was physical but fair and they looked to have more about them. They were quicker and stronger in the challenge and reaped the rewards of that, aided and abetted by some carelessness in possession on our behalf.
There were warning signs – a Zamora header over the bar and a shot from distance after Rosicky was robbed in midfield, but the goal, when it came, was slightly ludicrous. That the ball was allowed to travel through our midfield like that is a question that needs to be asked, but the way Vermaelen failed to deal with Taraabt was hardly the Beglian’s finest hour. The Moroccan held him off, span towards goal and finished well despite Koscielny’s last ditch attempt to get across.
Such was the way QPR were playing their fans started ‘Oléing’ midway through the first half. Of course that’s an invitation for something to happen and when Walcott hit the post with his first effort he tucked away the rebound to equalise. It was not an easy finish and it provided something of a spark to us. We played better from then on, and as the second half wore on we began to dominate in terms of territory and possession.
Robin van Persie really should have made it 2-1 when sent clean through by an Alex Song pass. I thought he took it a bit early, to be honest, but you’d still have fancied him to score from there. Instead Paddy Kenny made a very good save. And not long after that QPR went ahead.
Again it was poor defending from Vermaelen, he slipped over on the edge of the box, Mackie squared it for Diakite to side-foot home what turned out to be the winner. It was another bad moment for Vermaelen but I don’t think it’s unfair to ask why Diakite was standing all alone in our box without an Arsenal player anywhere near him. He obviously came forward from midfield, so whoever failed to track him needs to take some of the blame too.
Normally you’d expect us to turn the screw, to pepper the goal with shots and pile on the pressure but that wasn’t the case. The subs seemed to have little impact, it was Chamakh who won us a free kick which van Persie lashed into the wall late on, and we just couldn’t break down a well organised QPR side who sat deep whenever we had it. Only Szczesny prevented a Barton goal to make it 3-1, it might have been worse.
Afterwards, Arsene said:
Our performance was not good enough to win this kind of game, especially in the duels. They had a little bit of extra special commitment that took advantage of us in some specific positions defensively. Overall we can only congratulate QPR for their attitude and be unhappy with our own performance.
We know how to respond, we have been exposed to this situation this season. We have a good opportunity on Sunday but it will be needed after giving away the points today.
Overall it wasn’t a good performance but without two individual errors I don’t think we were really under that much pressure. You can’t legislate for those kind of mistakes but the reality is that in the Premier League if you fall even 2-3% short of your best you’ll get punished. If you hand the opposition gilt-edged chances, they’ll usually score. And that was our downfall.
That said, I do have to wonder about Arsene’s team selection. I’m not sure I understand the rationale behind selecting Ramsey as a left sided attacking player. If it’s about protecting the full back, it doesn’t work because Ramsey is so uncomfortable there he drifts all over the pitch. Perhaps that’s his brief but it’s clearly not effective.
He has two more obvious, more natural options there. Gervinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain, and I’d have been inclined to choose the latter, would have provided us with an outlet and more balance in the side. As Ramsey drifts we end up lop-sided, unable to use the left side as much as we should to get forward. That the knives are out for Ramsey on a day when Vermaelen ostensibly cost us the game seems a touch incongruous to me, and let’s remember, he didn’t pick himself there.
The other thing I found particularly frustrating about yesterday were Alex Song’s constant attempts to play the incisive through ball. It worked once, when he sent van Persie clear, and there’s no doubt he’s had some success in recent games with some fantastic assists, but too many times yesterday he tried it when it was not the right thing to do. Yes, you can say he was trying to make something happen, and I get that, but the best players know that sometimes the simple pass is most effective.
Especially late on, when we needed to keep possession, seeing him kick it away trying almost impossible passes when there was an Arsenal shirt better placed was a bit irritating. I’m not suggesting he shouldn’t try those passes, just not all the time. Anyway, that was a minor gripe and I think it was borne out of Song’s desperation to try and make something happen on a day in which nobody else seemed to be able, or willing, to change the game.
So, a first defeat in eight games brings back a familiar feeling and there’s been some familiar reaction. It’s almost as if we didn’t win 7 in a row, that somehow that’s been forgotten. It just shows that despite that good run you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to find the turmoil again. It is a bit unfair, I think, and some of the vitriol is so over the top. The team has played very, very well recently, fell short a bit yesterday and essentially handed the game to QPR with individual errors.
What’s important is how we respond, especially when you consider our next opponents are Man City next Sunday. The team will know this is a game from which we should have taken three points, and the nice position we’d built for ourselves in the league is now a touch more brittle. Perhaps it’s a reminder that there are still a lot of points to play for this season, and that we need to make sure performances like yesterday’s don’t happen again.