Arsenal 1-0 QPR: late, not great, but enough


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Not even in the most parallel of parallel universes would yesterday’s match have gone down as a classic. Arsenal were better than in their previous two games but still struggled, and showed signs of the difficulties they’d faced against Norwich and Schalke.

But, we kept plugging away, didn’t let heads drop despite Santi Cazorla’s almost inexplicable miss and in the end got the goal and the three points I thought we just about deserved.

Based on some of the immediate reaction yesterday (and I know straight after a game is not the most even-handed barometer, but still), you’d have been hard pressed to know we’d won. It’s almost as if there was an expectation of turning up, finding our most groovy and fluent rhythm again and swatting aside the bottom of the table team with consummate ease. The amount of times I read people bemoaning the nature of the win because of QPR’s league position really struck me as odd.

Let’s look at it from our point of view: we were rubbish against Norwich and rubbisher against Schalke. The confidence we’d built up pre-Interlull didn’t just go out the window, it went from the 93rd floor holding a sign saying ‘Goodbye cruel world’ and landed on top of a minibus full of orphans.

The idea that we’d just turn things around and play brilliantly was preposterous. As it was we played a lot better, in my opinion, we had plenty of shots, were much more direct and the fact that Julio Cesar made a series of saves which ranged from good to remarkable (the one he saw late from the scramble after a corner was truly world class) backs that up.

Then let’s look at it from QPR’s point of view: their league position really isn’t representative of the quality of players they have in their squad (although I’d suggest any team that deliberately chooses Ryan Nelsen must have some kind of subconscious desire to flirt with relegation), and they’re managed by a man who likes to get one over on Arsene Wenger more than he likes breathing. They were hard working, well organised and, like any team down there, fighting like mad to get up the table.

And very briefly, I have to mention the referee. I’m not suggesting for one second that any of our shortcomings are excusable because of him but he looked like a man way of his depth yesterday. Free kicks for QPR were given when similar, or worse, incidents were brushed over from our point of view. And frankly, a man who struggles to keep a wall back 10 yards is going to struggle to control a game – it was frankly ridiculous to watch him ignore QPR’s oh-so-sneaky babysteps when we had a series of free kicks in good positions.

Anyway, bearing those three things in mind, I’m more than happy with the three points and the way we got them. I don’t think it means we’re the best team EVAH!, nor do I think many of the questions we have about the team were answered. But one was: can this Arsenal team scrap out a win when they really need one? And yes, yes they did.

Sometimes you need to win ugly, other teams are praised for not giving up or winning when they haven’t performed as well as expected. Those are qualities we’re told we should admire. Except, of course, when Arsenal do it. To me it’s just counter-intuitive, analysis and discussion of games and performances is crucial, but part of being a football fan is enjoying it when your team wins. If you’re in an absolute rage because we didn’t win the way you wanted us to win then you really need to rethink what you’re getting from the game.

It’s hardly the first time we’ve nicked a late winner against a team who we’re supposed to beat. Not the first time under Arsene Wenger, not the first time in the club’s long history. That the goal was probably offside, making Mark Hughes even more unhappy than failing once again to get a win, makes it even sweeter, unless you get too hung up on our performance.

And as I said, it really wasn’t that bad. 22 attempts on goal, 9 of them on target, is a marked improvement on the last two games – especially when facing a team who were determined to park the bus and, at the very least, not concede. Santi Cazorla’s blushes were saved by Mikel Arteta and to me it’s notable that the very first decent cross we got was attacked by Giroud and although his header was saved it lead to the goal.

Andrei Arshavin was the man to make it, and with Gervinho suffering an ankle injury the manager described as “not good”, we may need the Russian in the coming weeks. I accept some people will still have doubts about Giroud but he got little service yesterday, but worked hard, and when he did get a decent ball … you know what happened.

The main talking point though was the return of Jack Wilshere. Not informed of his inclusion until 10.30am on the morning of the match, it was almost like he’d never been away. His quality is obvious and with more games and more fitness he’ll be even better, but to have come through a good hour, withstood a number of hefty challenges by QPR players (including one quite nasty stamp on his foot/ankle), and played that well will have done him the world of good.

It’s fantastic to have a player of his quality back, he adds a lot and will add more, so let’s keep fingers crossed he has no ill-effects. It’s also worth noting that Bacary Sagna slotted back in like he’d never been away, which is good to see too. It’s kinda harsh on Carl Jenkinson who has played very well but this is top level sport, not be kind to the nice guy stuff, and the competition will only be a good thing for the young man anyway.

So, overall I’m happy that today is a day for looking at the table without weeping and without the need for post-mortem. It really doesn’t matter how you win sometimes, once you win, and, we won.

As a final aside, I do wonder if my more sanguine approach to the performance was due to the fact I discovered I could switch from Spanish commentary on my satellite system to one without any commentary at all. No annoying pundits, no Tony Gale (Antonio Vendeval?!) winding people up, no agendas, no lazy thinking, no bullshit soundbites, just crowd noise and the football.

I can’t explain to you how hilarious it is to hear Mark Hughes and his coaching staff berate the 4th official after an offside goal.

“IT’S A DISGRACE!”, they shrieked. “A DISGRACE”.

Me, I just laughed, because they are cunts. Have a good Sunday.