Arsenal edged out London rivals QPR with a hard fought win thanks to a goal from Robin van Persie. Or should I say Robin van Persie beat QPR 1-0 as it appears that without the flying Dutchman this Arsenal team would be mid-table, more of which later.
The last time we dragged ourselves over to N.5 Tony Adams was their captain and he was announced on the pitch to take the adulations of the home support. Also in attendance was Andy Impey and both players would’ve not looked out of place in this game even at their respective ages. The biggest news before the game was the imminent return of Arsenal legend Thierry Henry on a two-month loan, which says a lot about a so called top four team and their lack of ambition.
Neil Warnock made five changes to the team that started and finished the game at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on Tuesday. Cerny returned in goal as Kenny had got injured in training on Friday apparently with Murphy on the bench. Hill, Derry and Helguson were also on the bench while Hall was out injured altogether. Gabbidon and Connolly returned to the centre of defence with Traore and Young taking up their respective full-back slots. Wright-Phillips came back into the side in midfield alongside Faurlin, Barton, Mackie and Taarabt with Bothroyd ploughing a lone furrow upfront.
Rangers started brightly with our midfield giving as good as they got against what appeared on paper, superior opponents. Wright-Phillips was into his stride early, ably assisted by Barton and Faurlin. On 8 minutes, Bothroyd was found outside of the box, wide to the right. He instantly controlled the call and with Vermaelen all over him, he did well to first shield the ball, then turn the defender and going across the edge of the box, he got his left-footed shot on target with the keeper making a comfortable save.
Then, within a minute, Shaun Wright-Phillips beat a defender and played a one-two with Taarabt. The Moroccan managed to find Wright-Phillips as he went beyond the defence and from an acute angle, Wright-Phillips tried to beat the keeper, but Szczesny had narrowed the angle well and made a decent save. I’m guessing that most teams’ game plan centre around stopping Robin van Persie and we were no different. Every time he got the ball, which seemed often as Arsenal’s game plan clearly centres around giving him the ball a.s.a.p. and a QPR player was all over him like a rash.
On 15 minutes he did manage to find an inch of space where it seemed there wasn’t one with Connolly breathing down his neck and although he got his shot on target, it was an easy save for Cerny. Three minutes later, Shaun Wright-Phillips went on a run and beating two players, he fed Faurlin inside who played in Barton. Taking two strides, our captain let fly from around the edge of the box, but the shot went aimlessly wide or should I say embarrassingly wide.
On 23 minutes came the first sight of Robin van Persie’s exquisite footballing brain. Arshavin had worked some space out wide left and with only van Persie to aim at in the box, he launched the ball to the far post. The Dutchman had anticipated where the ball was going to go and peeling off his marker, he met the cross with his forehead and headed back across the face of the goal. With Cerny beaten it came as a relief to the 3,000 or so of us behind the goal when the ball sailed a yard past the post. Minutes later, Djourou went on a mazy run down the line and crossed to the far post and inevitably to van Persie. He instantly killed the ball and with Young inches away, he danced around him as if he wasn’t there and from only six yards out he managed to shoot over the bar when it looked easier to score. Phew !!!
On the half-hour, we were even luckier. Vermaelen launched a long ball over our back-four and in particular Connolly. Once again Robin van Persie had anticipated where the ball was going to land as it went over Connolly’s shoulder. With the whole goal to aim at and from 18 yards, the Dutchman once again put his shot, with his right foot this time, about a yard over the bar.
Then on 35 minutes, we hit Arsenal on the break down the right. Shaun Wright-Phillips was found out wide and he immediately got down the wing. As he went over the half-way line, he was scythed down cynically by Arsenal’s No.6, Laurent Koscielny. Wright-Phillips managed to get back on his feet and left the defender in his wake as he ran at goal with the ball. The attack itself came to nothing and the ball then took about another minute to go out of play. The referee then decided to take action for the previous foul and rightly so, except that he then booked Arsenal’s No.5, Thomas Vermaelen !!! The home crowd then awoke from their sleep and gave the referee a rendition of, “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing !”
Rangers fans weren’t too enamoured with him either, what with Mikel Arteta taking corners in front of us with the ball clearly outside the white line. At one point the ball boy even placed the ball well inside the line with Arsenal’s No.8 then moving the ball outside the line. How the referee or his nearby assistant didn’t notice it is beyond me.
On 39 minutes the referee did manage to book the correct player when Djourou was adjudged to have fouled Barton from behind. Had he wrongly booked Vermaelen for that he would’ve been shot !!! Two minutes before the break following an Arsenal corner, the ball was cleared to the edge of the box where Ramsey met the ball on the volley. Thankfully Barton was on the line and although it was going about 6 inches wide (from my seat directly behind it) our captain headed it out for another corner.
We had played well 1st half and weren’t afraid of the opposition like at Anfield. All we had to do it seemed was to keep Robin van Persie quiet as Arsenal’s team were devoid of any ideas except feed the ball to the No.10, easier said than done. We also needed to get some support to Bothroyd who was very isolated in the 1st half. Half-time: 0-0.
The 2nd half started with again our midfield getting among the opposition, but Arsenal seemed to be more up for it than they did at the very beginning of the game. Both midfields were having a right old battle in the middle of the park. On 53 minutes following an Arsenal attack, the ball fell to Koscielny 25 yards out. With no clear route to goal due to the amount of bodies in the way, he hit a screamer of a shot that seemed to hit Luke Young’s arm as the shot was blocked. To be fair to the ref, he did indicate that he saw the incident, but ruled that the ball had hit the player’s foot first then hit his arm.
If that was a lucky break we got even luckier 3 minutes later. Ramsey put a ball through the middle of our defence and Walcott collected it on the half-way line and then ran the thirty odd yards to goal. With no defender able to even get near to him it was now down to Cerny to stop the England international. Or so everyone thought. With the entire freedom of the Emirates Stadium and just the area between the two goalposts to aim at, he sent his shot 5 yards wide with hails of laughter coming from the away fans. To say that it was pathetic would be too kind. As a regular England fan this came as no surprise to me as I think that he is possibly one of the most over-rated players in England. This proved it. I wish that the same could be said about Arsenal’s talisman.
Four minutes later Robin van Persie showed Walcott how it’s done and won the game. No need for his mercurial skill this time as Shaun Wright-Phillips found Arshavin with a great pass. A shame that Arshavin wasn’t in hoops though. The Russian couldn’t believe his luck and with our back-four wrong footed by Wright-Phillips’s negligence, van Persie was behind us in an instant and onto Arshavin’s inch perfect pass. Try as he might, Cerny closed the angle, but this time van Persie made no mistake and buried it under the keeper’s body and into the net.
Within seconds, Bothroyd seemed to pull up injured when most of us had forgotten that he was on the pitch. He lasted another 3 minutes before being replaced by DJ Campbell. On 69 minutes we should’ve equalised, but squandered the best chance we had created all afternoon. Taarabt took a free kick and although the ball came back to him he managed to put a quality cross to the far post. In the crowded penalty area Connolly had been left alone at the far post and he met the ball on the volley, but with the goal at his mercy he put the ball into Row Z from about 10 yards out. With it went our last chance of anything as for the next 20 minutes both teams huffed and puffed to no avail.
When we did look threatening, Adel Taarabt decided to dive to the floor inside the box when he had worked a yard of space. I felt embarrassed for him and a little angry. It was also noticeable that after the seventy minute mark a fair percentage of the home support were leaving the ground. No doubt to get in the Club Superstore as there was a 50% off sale on many items. I’ve never been to a ground with so many home supporters holding the club shop carrier bags full of stuff like the Arsenal Monopoly games, ‘Gunnersaurus’ cuddly toys, AFC duvet covers etc etc. Kerching !
At one point after the game as I went and looked at the three statues outside the ground, I actually thought that I was back in Tokyo as I got surrounded by about thirty people with cameras. As much as the stadium is superb it has become a hollow replacement for Highbury. If we do have any plans to move into a new stadium, I hope that we don’t use the Emirates as an example as I have been to louder funerals.
Team: Cerny 6, Young 6, Traore 7 (Orr 6), Connolly 6, Gabbidon 6, Taarabt 7, Barton 5, Wright-Phillips 7, Faurlin 7, Mackie 6 (Smith 6), Bothroyd 5 (Campbell 5)
Booked: Barton, Young.
Attendance: 60,067 (3,000 +++ QPR)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)