I don’t know whether it’s my perpetual sense of impending doom when it comes to upcoming Arsenal matches, but this game away to QPR tonight is one that worries me, for a number of reasons.
Arsène was right in his assertion at his pre-game presser yesterday, that all of the teams fighting for those Champions League places are now in an ‘accelerated sprint’ (I think that’s the term he used) to the end of the season, but with all of the so-called ‘bigger’ teams picking up points at a more consistent rate, it makes the margins for error quite small, with one suspecting that we will almost certainly need to win the game to stay third.
Of course that’s easier said than done. Yes, QPR are currently 17th in the division and so when you look at the black-and-whiteness of the league table, you can see why most pundits are predicting an away win. But QPR have some levellers in this game that are enough to keep Gooners like myself fearing an upset.
First and foremost, they’re a totally different entity when playing at home, more so than any other team in the division. The home support in that tight ground will be vocieferous and we’ve already lost there once in the last two times we’ve been since they were reintroduced to the league a few seasons back after a long absence. They all not be timid, they will look to come at The Arsenal quickly I suspect and they will try to stun us before we can get any rhythm. I think they will see themselves like a plucky underdog – a David vs Goliath if you will – and the best way to down us is through an early stunning as quick as possible. Catch us off guard and see if we react.
They have the advantage on the fatigue front too. Having avoided playing at the weekend because of the League Cup final, QPR have been able to get some warm weather training under their belts and there is no doubt they will be fresher than our lads this evening. So I expect them to be chasing down more, pressing us higher up the pitch and trying to hem us in like Liverpool away, Spuds away or Stoke away this season. There are plenty of us Gooners that have realised that teams have sussed out how to play us. But the trouble is they don’t always have the capability to do it. QPR will have the fitness to do it so I think this will be really tough for us.
Their threat will come through Austin as the finisher and, if Zamora plays then him as the target man, so we have a couple of players with different attributes that we’ll need to contend with. There will be no Barton in midfield for the R’s but there will be Karl Henry, so we need to expect plenty of cynical fouls, hard bone-shaking tackles and not a lot more. Krancjar will be their creative outlet through the middle, so if Le Coq plays then you’d imagine he’d need to be stifling any attempts he has to influence the game.
Despite our win last season against QPR, apparently our record there isn’t amazing and I’d be shocked if this game isn’t as nerve-jangling as Palace, so viewers of a nervous disposition should probably find a dark room to deploy to if I’m honest. Having said that, as well as all of my personal fears of an upset, you can’t not look at our form and the players that Arsène could (and should) rotate to keep us fresh for tonight.
I’d love to see Rosicky, Walcott and Welbeck all playing. Tomas was a fiery bundle of energy when he came on at the weekend and is clearly trying to make a statement to the manager every time he plays. So let him make a statement again, Arsène, let little Mozart play. As for Walcott, many may still be questioning his overall contribution, but he has been an important player in terms of end product against QPR and I think he can be again, so I’d give him a shot. If QPR press us high to win the ball, the game will be tailor-made for him, as he’ll find plenty of space and will provide an outlet up top out wide. Welbeck too, for his application and work rate on the other flank, could replace Alexis who we need to give a recharge to ahead of an equally important game in the Fa Cup on Monday next week.
The other questions the manager will have will be around who partners Koscienly in the middle of defence, as well as whether Coquelin has recovered enough from his nose smashing at the weekend. It sounds from what Arsène says as though he should be fine. The only other question might be whether Monreal comes in for Gibbs, but both appear equally matched at the moment so I have no idea what Le Boss is going to do.
We are at a crucial part in the season right now, in the middle of a run of games that could be season defining, which at the moment we have faltered in only one. A win tonight keeps us in pole position in the league for Champions League qualification, but will also boost confidence ahead of a really tough trip to Old Trafford.
Come on Arsenal. Let’s do this.