Saturday, 27 December 2014

Arsenal 2-1 QPR: Super Sanchez seals nervy points

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

We've had so many unconvincing wins this season that yesterday seemed almost routine. The pattern was almost familiar - a possession-dominated Arsenal side failed to impress in front of goal, only to be bailed out by the magnificent Sanchez, yet almost found a way to Arsenal it all up. I guess Jesus was on our side for this one, because despite not getting some of the decisions our way, we were fortunate to not concede a penalty which many referees would have given.

The lineup hit me as a bit of a surprise, but on second thoughts, I realized there didn't seem to be much choice for Wenger than to bring Tomas Rosicky for the injured Oxlade-Chamberlain. Apart from that the only other change was Nacho Monreal for Calum Chambers. While I appreciate the rotation, on a personal level I would have tried to being Podolski into the fold, for either Sanchez or Welbeck.

I know that Podolski isn't rated highly by the manager, but it's not exactly a monumental task to trust him to deliver the goods against one of the worst teams in the league at home. He does have his faults in terms of his defensive contribution and his workrate, but he also has utility to the team. He wasn't and isn't a German international by fluke.

Wenger spoke about rotation in the Christmas period, coming out against it with some pretty ludicrous quotes:

“The difficulty is finding the right balance between rotation and the balance of the team without destabilising it. Therefore you sometimes have to limit the numbers of rotation.”

To me it seems like a poorly thought out way to window dress his man management skills throughout the years and promote inaction. Anyone who plays football - it doesn't even have to be Premier League standard - knows that their body is a temple. Carefully managing the team throughout the season (which include the training sessions as much as the Matchday fixtures) is very important. The answer to winning all games isn't playing all the best players by default, especially when you take into consideration that most of the players Arsene has assembled are relatively brittle and are playing football week in, week out since a tender age.

It's amazing how readily people dismiss and downplay the consequences of overplaying a footballer to defend their manager. Any football authority worth their salt will tell you its of huge importance, none more so than Shad Forsythe. However, in the end, Shad doesn't pick our starting XI, Arsene Wenger does. And it is this overplaying that increases the casualty list after almost every match.

Ospina's injury was down to poor management (he's fit now though, bless him). Koscielny, Ozil, Arteta and Ramsey were definitely exerted. It isn't unfair to suggest that at this going rate, the likes of Mertesacker, Flamini, Cazorla, Alexis and Welbeck could pick up an injury pertaining to muscle strains. Even playing them too much too quickly increases the balance of probability in them picking up an impact injury.

Should Mertesacker, for instance, get injured, it will be hard to blame the medical staff. The reason for his injury will be down to him being physically and mentally strained, which goes back to the transfer market. However, Wenger still has control over the Cazorla, Alexis and Welbeck situation. He has players like Rosicky, Podolski and Campbell who can do a job for a few games. He needs to stop using the same group of players and trust other portions of his teams too.

On any manager's level, though, it's easy to understand the temptation to play Sanchez regularly. Even (or especially) when he makes an error in Arsenal proceedings, he hustles and harries to make amends.

After some steady pressure, Traore showed exactly why Wenger let him go when he foolishly felled Sanchez in the box. The Chilean's penalty was admittedly up to the standard of Traore's challenge. I don't know if he was overly confident or what, but he shanked that. Wenger hinted in the post-match presser that Cazorla was supposed to take the spot-kick. And while that speaks of Sanchez's selfishness, it also spoke of his determination.

At that point, I felt that we were going to give the game away. Never mind it was QPR and Harry Redknapp, Arsenal remain Arsenal. I couldn't trust this team to beat Arsenal Ladies anymore. It did seem for a while that things were starting to go haywire. Mertesacker was mispositioning himself into the final third. Around the 32nd minute Sanchez chose not to cross to Giroud, seemingly out of lack of concentration. Even a classy player like Rosicky was only starting to get into the game. A better team than QPR might have punished us.

Thankfully, we punished them for their lack of opportunism. Welbeck picked up the ball around the centre of the park and fed Santi on the edge of the box. Cazorla, with his back to goal, rolled in Gibbs, who crossed towards the far post. Armand Traore's positional sense was shot to pieces when he realized he left Sanchez in so much space I thought he was offside. Green didn't help by leaving his goal open either, and Sanchez took the gift with both hands. Or his head. You know what I mean.

Stephen Caulker almost negated the lead within a minute, but missed his header. No matter, as Arsenal took advantage of QPR's meh-ism and bossed the ball. Around half-time I remember possession stats reading 71% in Arsenal's favour. I always love that when we're winning.

Of course, all those feelings of "thank God we're finally getting it together" we're squished early into the second half when Giroud got himself needlessly sent off. And look, I know that I get some stick for being a Giroud supporter (people who support Giroud but not Arsene Wenger live in a lonely world, believe me!) and I'm not at all advocating his head-to-head stupidity. However, I really think had Onouha not done his bit of theatrics and instead rivaled with Giroud's head, the both of them would have been on yellows. It's happened a lot of times in the league where two players have had a coming together, gone on each other's faces but stayed on the field. Maybe it's just my opinion, but I feel that Onouha contributed decisively to Giroud's sending off as much as Olivier did.

Another point to consider - why wasn't Rio Ferdinand shown a second yellow when he physically manhandled Giroud? Needless to say it's another joke on the FA when they choose to ban him for three games for abusing an internet troller but won't lay a finger when he catches the back of someone's neck on the pitch. I know it's a bit off-topic, but something has to be done.

Leaving aside the mitigations of the situation, the red for Giroud was expected and once again invited a mentally frail Arsenal to make hot water of an easy task. Wenger went with a weird ten-men formation which had Welbeck on the left flank, Sanchez as striker, Rosicky as a right attacking midfielder, Cazorla in left central midfield and Flamini playing defensive midfield. Picture that in your mind if you can. Of course, employing such a "formation" left only Debuchy guarding the right side. Harry Redknapp tried to exploit that by taking off Traore for Hoilett.

It started to work, but not before Sanchez took the team on his stocky shoulders again. Picking the ball dead center, he went past two Rangers defenders before finding Rosicky in space. The Czech showed his rustiness with an uncertain strike, but a kind deflection and an even kinder goalkeeper helped the ball into the net. Regardless, you could see what that goal meant to him. He wasn't different class on the pitch, so to say, but he did make himself known when he was given the time. Hopefully (ha!) Wenger gives him an extended run.

QPR brought on Zamora for Jordan Mutch. It was supposed to seem that they had nothing to lose, but on the pitch it seemed like Arsenal were 2-0 down! What particularly struck me as baffling was when Mertesacker and Debuchy went ahead for a corner around the 76th minute. It's one thing to go 10 men down and leave only Debuchy to guard the right hand side, but it's very much another for even the Frenchman to abandon his much-needed post.

Of course the corner came to nothing and QPR broke. They waltzed forward into the final third - where Rosicky was playing left back - and Hoilett found himself with space on Arsenal's right side. A retreating Debuchy stuck out a nervous foot at Hoilett, he went to ground and the ref pointed to the spot. The decision was debatable, but was partly the consequence of our own actions. Leaving a 10 men side that exposed is criminal.

Charlie Austin converted the penalty and then it was back to the walls stuff for Arsenal. We aren't very good at it in all honesty, and legs were also starting to tire. Wenger made his first change at - I kid you not - 83 minutes when he took off Rosicky for Chambers and later Welbeck for Coquelin. If you don't count Bellerin as a first-team defender, we had all of our fit defenders on the pitch at that moment.

They had a late Zamora penalty shout, which I felt should have been given. Obviously I was chuffed that it wasn't, but it was just another example of how panicky we tend to get under pressure. It isn't a personal thing for Gibbs by any means - it happens to almost every Arsenal player during the crunch time. Last season we kept our heads very well, but we seem to have regressed massively on that front this time around. It's cost us a lot of points already, and almost did yesterday.

Arsene Wenger has his own opinion of why Kieran sort of lost it, saying:

"The last five minutes were a bit edgy because we conceded a late goal last week and you could feel that was a bit in our mind. But overall I think we were in control for big parts of the game and in the end we have shown resilience and fortunately got the three points."

I always love me some Boxing Day points, but today was another example of how at Arsenal mistakes aren't rectified and minds aren't set straight. Today we were bailed out by a quite remarkable Chilean and an unconvincing opposition, but West Ham tomorrow won't be as polite.

There's a reason why they are above us in the table. We have to start exhibiting some of those, too.

Extra reading | Arsenal 2-1 QPR : Rangers fail to take man advantage [Crazy About EPL]

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]