Happy New Year to you all, may 2012 be a safe and healthy one and thank you again to everyone who takes time out of their day to make Highbury House what it is today…..
On to Oliver’s match review:
Such is Arsenal’s lot these days. We win one match and we lose another player in the process. Yesterday saw us grab an absolutely critical three points, while losing another key defender in the process.
TV lasted 53 minutes before limping off with what is described as a calf strain, making it three players who have featured at left back for this season out with injury. Arsene indicated that TV will miss both the league trip to Fulham and the FA Cup tie versus Leeds, if not longer.
Coq came on in his place, and is probably next in line to fill the position for the time being. As weak as we are on the flanks, TV’s calf problem weakens the entire defence, as we have looked much more solid since he returned from injury and this reduces our options in the middle.
We are looking at Mert and Kos as the partnership, with Squil probably on the bench now. We’ll see how serious TV’s calf is over the next few days but we are fast running out of players on the defensive end. I don’t expect Arsene to dip into the transfer/loan market for a left-back – for one, I don’t think there are that many options and recent experience has shown us that he usually prefers to persist with what he has.
Only time will tell how costly that may prove, if he chooses not to bring anyone else in…
With all that said, it wasn’t all bad on this last day of 2011. Liverpool’s Friday evening win over Newcastle moved them a point ahead of us, so we kicked off in sixth place. Blackburn’s win at Old Trafford reminded us – once again – there are few free rides in the league.
Our last meeting with QPR may have ended in a rout (6-0 at Loftus Road in a January 2001 FA Cup tie), but Rangers have more than held their own with us in previous league encounters. In eight previous Premiership encounters, our only win came on Boxing Day 1995, a 3-0 victory. Rangers doubled us with twin 3-1 scores in the 94-5 season, including their 3-1 win at Highbury seventeen years ago today…You know, the match where John Jensen scored…They were relegated the following season, and both sides are far, far different than they were all those early Premiership years ago…
The match’s other sub-plot focused on our Captain. There was speculation during the week that Arsene would rest Robin for this fixture; the manager all-but-confirmed Robin would start today.
At Villa Park, he equaled our once (and now future) striker Thierry Henry’s club record of 34 Premiership goals in a calendar year, and needed two to equal Alan Shearer’s Premier League record of 36 (set in 1995). Setting the record would be a great personal milestone, but sentiment is pretty much unanimous that three points was the primary goal.
We lined up Szczesny, TV, Mert, Kos, JD, Arteta, Song, Ramsey, Theo, Robin and Arsh. Al, Coq, Rosicky, OC, Benny, Gerv and Chamakh made up the bench. A rare start for Arsh, at Gerv’s expense, while Theo recovered from his Boxing Day illness to resume his spot in the starting eleven.
We started this one slowly. We got our passing and probing routine going, but were not at all direct and Rangers took the first shot of the game, former Arsenal youth Boothroyd drawing a save from Szczesny in the ninth minute. Wright-Phillips then forced Szczesny to block after Taarabt’s pass put him in. Nine minutes later, Taarabt flattened Arsh with a flailing arm, but referee Atkinson incredibly gave nothing…
We started to threaten a bit from there, and Robin had three good chances to open the scoring, first heading narrowly wide, then chipping Cerny, but clearing the bar in the process. His third chance saw him volley over the bar. Then Theo shot wide after a scramble in the Rangers box.
Just over 10 minutes from the interval, former Spud Young blocked Kos’ shot with his arm, but Atkinson gave nothing – that is the second time in as many matches that we had a good shout for a handball penalty not given. To make matters worse, we had a shot for another handball a few minutes later, albeit not as clear as the prior incident.
As the half wound down, we continued the pressure, with Barton heading Ramsey’s volley off the line, and Cerny saving from Arteta. But the goal wouldn’t yet come and we headed into the break level.
We didn’t make any changes at the restart, but TV lasted less than nine minutes with his calf problem, so Coq came on to replace him. A Mackie goal was already ruled out for offside when Traore put a great cross in, but Faurlin couldn’t connect cleanly and Szczesny saved.
Ten minutes in, Theo was guilty of a bad, bad miss – I doubt he will want to see the replays. Ramsey won the ball and put him through with an excellent pass. Theo drew Cerny, and as the Rangers keeper dove to his left, Theo shot embarrassingly wide of the right hand post, with much of the goal gaping!
Fortunately, Robin was on hand to make the breakthrough, as he has done for the entire half-season we’ve completed. Right on the hour, Arsh’s fine pass found Robin, who finished with his left foot! That goal, his 35th league strike of 2011, may not have equaled Shearer’s 1995 tally, but it took us up two places in the table, into fourth, ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea (who had been pegged back to 1-1 by Villa, and would ultimately lose 1-3).
Arsh quickly tried to double the lead, but Young blocked his shot – legally, this time…
With 25 minutes remaining, Szczesny had to save Taarabt’s low shot after the latter worked an opening for himself. Arsene then made a second change, replacing Arsh (who had the assist and subsequent chance, but didn’t do much else) with Rosicky. Theo was poor all afternoon, and I was a little surprised it was not him withdrawn. That happened ten minutes later, with Gerv coming on in his place. Just before that sub, Ramsey grazed Cerny’s bar with a powerful strike.
Rangers continued to press, but Gerv should have put the game away within two minutes of his introduction. Robin did the hard work, making time and space to cross for Gerv, who put the ball wide when he really should have scored…
Robin then had one more very late chance to equal Shearer’s mark, but he couldn’t find the target. We saw the remainder of regulation and stoppage time out to end the calendar year on a bright note. While still way behind (nine points, with City playing at the Stadium of Light tomorrow) the Manchester sides, we moved ahead of both Chelsea and Liverpool, and picked up two points on the Spuddies, who conceded a late equalizer at Swansea.
While fourth is certainly not the be-all, end-all, finishing the first half of the season in the position is an accomplishment, when you consider how far down the table we were as recently as September…
Much of what we can – or cannot – accomplish from here will depend on who we have available, who returns, and if we can add anyone in this next month. Thierry will return for a two month loan, but that is offset by the departures of Gerv and Chamakh for the African Cup of Nations.
Frim will also leave the club for the remainder of the season, hopefully getting some much needed experience and match minutes at Wolves. If TV can return quickly, followed by Jack and our full-backs, perhaps we can start another good run – one where our beginning point is fourth place.
There’s little time to worry about that, as we are back in action tomorrow night.
For now, it’s one match at a time and hopefully one win at a time.
Here’s to 2012 and some silverware to grace the Emirates trophy cabinet!
Written by Oliver