So it was the first return to Loftus Road after the hammer came down on QPR’s Premier League tenure last weekend. The mood was understandably sombre and subdued in the warm May sunshine. Fans were, to varying degrees, trying to come to terms with the welter of interviews and press statements coming out of the club in the last few days from both chairman and manager.
It has felt like in the wake of relegation the club has gone on the offensive to win the hearts and minds of the fan base and the wider world. However, this plethora of messages has left at least some bemused. Whilst previous regimes were criticized for being tight-lipped, the current club management would do well to recognise that there is such a thing as over-communication. There is a happy medium to be struck.
It’s a dramatic understatement to say that expectations were not high against the Champions League stalwarts from North London. For the record, Redknapp went with four changes. Tal Ben Haim came in for Jose Bosingwa who was described as having suffered “a tear”. Andros Townsend and Ji-Sung Park were re-instated to the team on the right and left flanks respectively. Bobby Zamora returned from his three-match suspension to make up the eleven alongside Loic Remy upfront.
It really didn’t take long for Rangers to do what they have so often done this season at home – surrender an early advantage to the opposition. Armand Traore was clearly asleep as on three separate occasions within the first twenty seconds after kick-off, when he firstly, lazily headed a hopeful long ball into the path of Lukas Podolski. The German international headed down for Tomas Rosicky, who in turn roasted the hapless Traore on the Rangers left. The QPR defender’s embarrassment was complete after some neat interplay between Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Miguel Arteta saw Theo Walcott clear past Traore.
Robert Green might have done better with Walcott’s close range shot, but Rangers were one down after conceding the fastest Premier League goal this season. The Loftus Road faithful were stunned, but to be honest not that stunned or shocked by the display of inept defending. Clint Hill threw his arms out in despair and frustration at Traore’s efforts, or lack of.
(Hill demonstrates his anger at Traore)
As the game settled, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a classic. Both Park and Townsend put in good showings in the early stages. The Korean superstar nearly put Remy in on goal with a clever pass on four minutes. But Arsenal controlled possession with a fair amount of ease, but without the real urgency which suggested they were keen for a quick second.
The visitors were 4-5-1 with Podolski leading the line and Miguel Arteta providing protection to the back-four. Rangers were shut down in midfield and resorted to pumping long balls up to Zamora. All very speculative from a lethargic relegated team. There was little evidence that the R’s would feel relieved of pressure and start to express themselves with freedom. If anything, Rangers withdrew deeper and surrendered increasing space to the visitors, themselves largely wasteful of their possession.
(Hill gets to grips with Walcott in the penalty area)
Unsurprisingly then Rangers created little in the first-half. On twenty minutes, Park nipped in to intercept a long ball to Bachary Sagna. He played on to Remy who took a wild lash at goal from 25 yards which predictably ballooned off into the Gooners in the School End. The dog’s abuse for their old adversary Redknapp was only momentarily interrupted by jeers for the French striker.
Arsenal made their superior possession tell on 25 minutes when the impressive Rosicky put Walcott clear through on goal. Walcott shot low, but Green got a touch on it and pushed it onto his left post. Two minutes later at the other end, Park spooned a good chance over the Arsenal bar after a great dribble from Townsend and a Zamora lay-off.
Around the half-hour mark Rangers had a mini spell of pressure with a blocked Park shot and a whipped Townsend corner. The impetus fizzled out until 37 minutes when Ben Haim intercepted a ball on the half-way line and let fly from 35 yards. It was an easy save from Wojciech Szczesny.
Three minutes later it was Stephane Mbia’s turn for a loose shot from outside the box which sailed harmlessly over the Arsenal goal. A dismal first-half culminated with Townsend going close from a free kick after Sagna bundled over Park just outside the area. Rangers went in already looking like a beaten side.
The second-half started with Shaun Derry coming on for the distinctly average Mbia who had apparently just passed a pre-match fitness test, and immediately the R’s had a lot more shape about them. Townsend threatened on the right and three minutes in tested the Arsenal keeper with a cross aimed at Remy’s head.
The game opened up and Park went close with a looping header from a Zamora cross. Rangers were now not sitting so deep and began to press Arsenal in midfield. The game was suddenly a lot more watchable.
On 53 minutes, Townsend underlined his ability with a rasping 25 yard, left-footed shot which was straight down the throat of Szczesny. Remy shot low from outside the box two minutes later, but Rangers couldn’t capitalise on this spell of pressure. On 58 minutes, Townsend forced a free kick out of Nacho Monreal which saw the Arsenal man booked. Rangers were definitely warming to the task.
(Remy faces up to Sagna)
Arsenal always looked capable of doubling their advantage. Derry was booked on 63 minutes for a poorly-timed challenge on the lively Rosicky. Arsenal now had a spell with more possession for Santi Cazorla, who was so impressive when the R’s visited the Emirates back in the autumn. The Spanish midfielder forced a scrappy reflex save from Green moments later with a shot which was moving everywhere.
Rangers were being forced deeper again with Clint Hill being called upon to make a number of important clearances. On 76 minutes, Walcott again tested Green from distance. The Rangers number one saved comfortably, although, again, was unable to collect the ball at the first attempt. A minute later, Jermaine Jenas was booked when Rosicky was floored yet again on the run. At this point Park was replaced by Adel Taarabt.
Rangers had their best chance of the game eight minutes from time when Townsend fed Zamora in space on the right, whose cross met Jenas in the middle. A quick pass out to the left saw a powerful first-time shot which Szczesny had to push away to safety.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked lively after coming on for Podolski but the change didn’t make much of an impact as Arsenal sat on their lead. There were further comedy attempts on goal at either end – an unlikely lob from Zamora and a scuffed grubber shot from Aaron Ramsey. But even though the barren spectacle of the second-half fizzled out, it was much more of a contest than the first.
It is telling that this game, even though it was the first of our ‘dead rubber’ games, Redknapp chose not to play any upcoming talent, whereas Park holds a starting berth. It’s much too late though to be questioning the selection of players for commercial reasons. Most fans just want an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again from the wreckage of this dreadful season.
Team: Green 7, Traore 5 (Fabio), Hill 7, Onuoha 6, Ben Haim 6, Park 6 (Taarabt 6), Jenas 6, Townsend 8, Mbia 6 (Derry 6), Remy 7, Zamora 6.
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Granero, Mackie, Bothroyd.
QPR MOM – Townsend. Clearly a cut above most of the other players in hoops. Passionate, energetic and clearly playing for a higher profile role at Spurs next season.
Arsenal MOM – Rosicky. Found acres of space in the Rangers midfield and looked very dangerous. The Gunners biggest threat, especially in the first-half.
(Photos provided by Sandra Sayce and are used with permission)