Arsenal fulfilled their side of the bargain but late winning goals for both Chelsea and Spurs may have shifted the momentum away from the Emirates in the race to secure a Champions League qualification spot.
The win against an already relegated QPR side should have been substantially easier than it turned out to be with Arsenal making life difficult for themselves with a performance that began brightly and developed a lethargy as the game wore on.
There were four changes in the QPR side after the away draw at Reading which confirmed relegation for the Londoners. Ben Haim replaced Bosingwa at right back possibly due to the controversy which had followed the Portuguese player following his departure form the pitch the previous week. Elsewhere, Taarabt, Granero and Bothroyd all dropped out to be replaced by Townsend, Park and Zamora.
The changes necessitated a change in system with QPR moving from a 4-3-1-2 away to Reading to an outright 4-4-2 against Arsenal.
There was just a single change for Arsenal after the home draw with Man Utd with Monreal replacing Gibbs at left back. Podolski remained as the central striker with Walcott on the right and Cazorla on the left although always moving centrally.
The Solitary Goal
Walcott scored the only goal of the game after just 20 seconds which became the fastest Premiership goal of the season and Arsenal’s fastest Premiership goal ever.
A cross-field ball was flighted towards Walcott but Traore intercepted yet inexplicably headed back infield to try to retain possession. The Frenchman should have simply cleared his lines. When Arsenal played the ball back out to Rosicky, his cross was headed by Ramsey to Arteta who played in Walcott for the goal.
It was all too easy, no pressure on the ball and no marking around the edge of the penalty area. QPR simply had players back but were doing nothing with them. The goal would alter how the game developed but QPR failed to react.
QPR’s 4-4-2 was always going to have difficulties competing against Arsenal’s more fluid and flexible 4-3-3 with the wide players, particularly Cazorla, cutting inside and overloading the midfield area. It meant that Arsenal constantly had numerical supremacy in this area of the field and Mbia and Jenas were overloaded even allowing for Park adopting his customary narrow position.
Both Remy and Zamora were selected as out-and-out forwards with neither dropping deep to provide any support to the midfield. Compounding this problem was Mbia who looked unfit despite passing a late fitness test and was substituted at half time.
It took QPR about 25 minutes to get any sort of urgency or tempo to their game. Their pressing was poor, Arsenal players were afforded time and space on the ball and only the post prevented Walcott from adding to his goal. When QPR did show intensity, it was also arriving from Andros Townsend on the right hand side. The player on loan from Spurs gave Monreal some real problem in the game but his team mates were unable to benefit from the half chances which he created.
Granted that they had just been relegated but the lack of any real sense of fight from QPR throughout the game was surprising. The home side committed just eight fouls in the game, a small number despite the gulf in quality between the teams.
QPR Static and Linear
A consequence of their formation was that QPR were often static and linear in this game. They seldom pressed Arsenal high up the pitch and allowed the away side time to come forward. It meant they were forced to defend deep resulting in the isolation of Remy and Zamora yet neither really dropped deep to act as a link primarily as both operate as strikers. Providing a link is not something that either is particularly adept at doing.
The interceptions of both teams are shown below:-
Arsenal sought to recover the ball further up the pitch and pressed QPR much more aggressively especially in the early stages of the game. This combined with QPR hitting long balls towards their strikers meant Arsenal were able to recover possession quickly.
Outnumbered in midfield, it was easier for QPR to go long and look for Zamora to win aerial duels and hold the ball up but the statistics show that even that option was not working properly for QPR. From 13 aerial duels, Zamora won just two as the graphic below shows:-
One explanation for this was that balls were always being played short to Zamora allowing the Arsenal defenders to move forward to attack the ball as opposed to pushing them backwards.
Arsenal – Sterile Domination
Arsenal completed 187 passes in the final third of the pitch from an attempted 238 but look how few actually went into the QPR penalty area as shown on the graphic below:-
Too often, Arsenal failed to make any serious indentation with spent time with lateral passing. It’s all very well being patient and probing with your passing but there has to be an end product. It was not that long ago that Wenger lambasted another side for sterile domination yet here Arsenal were guilty of that same trait albeit with less overall control.
There was a lack of movement in the final third to enable the likes of Cazorla and Ramsey to play a more vertical game. QPR were able to get bodies back and organised themselves before squeezing Arsenal.
Despite enjoying vastly more possession (58% vs 42%) and better territorial advantage, Arsenal were unable to add to their one goal lead. Whilst that would be disappointing, they seldom tested Rob Green in the QPR goal with just seven shots on target in the whole game as shown below:-
Whilst all of QPR’s shots on target were from outside the penalty area and could possibly be labelled speculative, Arsenal only had four shots on target from inside the penalty area.
The lack of a central reference point in attack can be beneficial if you have players attacking from the second line but Arsenal don’t really have that on a consistent basis.And without that reference point, opposition defences can squeeze the Gunners
One noticeable issue in the game was the quality of the surface. The pitch appeared to be fine but as play developed it was evidently very dry and quite bumpy. It led to passes going astray, being awkward to control and generally, slowing down the tempo of the game.
It does lead to questions: should QPR have been forced to water the pitch to make the ball travel quicker? Should you be allowed to let the grass grow a little longer if it benefits your game plan? Or does home advantage enable you to do whatever you want to the pitch within reason to gain the upper hand on your opponent?
It’s not just on the pitch that QPR and Arsenal are heading in vastly different directions but it’s off it as well.
Relegation will hit Tony Fernandes’ pockets hard and arguably the side should already be preparing for that event. Selecting players who will not be part of the team that finds itself in the Championship arguably serves no purpose particularly when they have shown themselves to be little value in the Premiership either.
Certain players will be leaving and the side needs to begin that adjustment process now to hit the ground running next season. When your best player, Andros Townsend, is on loan from Spurs followed by two players with a combined age of 70 in Clint Hill and Shaun Derry, you can see the problems that QPR are facing.
Arsenal face other problems. Results may have transpired against them this weekend and left matters outside of their own destiny.