QPR pulled off a shock win against in-form Arsenal to record back-to-back home wins for the first time this season. With seven league wins on the trot, this victory may have seemed unlikely, but with QPR’s No.7, Adel Taarabt, putting in a magnificent performance the home team were thoroughly deserving winners. The Moroccan opened the scoring with an outrageous piece of skill that Robin van Persie would’ve been proud of, but was ably assisted by ten heroes in hoops with new signing Samba Diakite getting the winning goal after Theo Walcott had equalised just before half-time.
With Cisse out suspended, Mark Hughes was forced into changing the team that capitulated at the Stadium of Light seven days previously. Clint Hill returned at centre-back with Onuoha moving to right-back in place of Luke Young, Ferdinand and Taiwo made up the defensive quartet in front of Paddy Kenny. Joey Barton returned in a five-man midfield alongside Derry, Diakite with Mackie and Taarabt occupying the wide berths in support of the lone striker Zamora.
Arsenal kicked off and immediately played their keepy ball possession tactics. This was rudely interrupted with Taiwo clattering Walcott for the first free kick of the game with less than 30 seconds on the scoreboard. We immediately got into Arsenal’s faces and were playing a high tempo game and were pressing the opposition in their half of the pitch, very similar to the tactics used against Chelsea and Manchester City earlier in the season.
With Mackie and Taarabt attacking the full-backs, it seemed that Hughes had identified this as a weak link in the opposition. On 3 minutes, Mackie attacked Gibbs and as he went to head the ball, Arsenal’s left-back cleared the ball at head height. With the home crowd baying for a free kick, the referee waved play on. We were also trying to hit Arsenal on the break when we eventually won possession and three times in the first ten minutes we came so close to beating the offside trap that George Graham’s team would’ve been proud of.
On 7 minutes, Arsenal’s flying Dutchman had his first sniff at goal following a clumsy Hill challenge on Walcott some 30 yards from goal. Van Persie lined up the free kick and I’ll admit that I was nervous. The shot beat the wall, but Kenny managed to gather the ball at the second attempt having parried the initial shot.
Then on 13 minutes, it was Arteta’s turn to kick Barton in the head at head height and once again the referee said nothing. The crowd responded with a rousing rendition of: ‘There’s Only One Joey Barton’. From the free kick, Taarabt sent in a lovely curling cross into the danger area where Zamora rose highest and sent a powerful header sailing just over the bar. The crowd responded again and would stay in good voice for the rest of the game. We were up for it, on and off the pitch. A couple of minutes later it was Zamora’s turn to be kicked in the face by Vermaelen as he went to head a ball that was at head height. Once again the referee gave the free kick, but didn’t even talk to the Arsenal player. From the free kick into the box, the ball was initially cleared and fell to Hill to try his luck, but his shot was straight at Szczesny.
On 17 minutes, Arteta challenged Taarabt with a fair shoulder barge and was intimating for Taarabt to get to his feet and stop acting. Personally, I thought that Adel wasn’t strong enough and needed to be more aggressive and use his upper body strength. Then as the clock ticked over to twenty minutes, Zamora held the ball up from a Taarabt pass and hit a shot on the turn, but again Arsenal’s keeper wasn’t troubled too much. Within a minute, Taarabt took centre stage and took Arsenal’s defence to the cleaners at the same time. Nothing seemed on as Hill looked upfield for what we all thought was going to be a punt up to Zamora. Even Arsenal’s defence were surprised when he threaded a ball along the deck to Taarabt who had Vermaelen breathing down his neck some thirty yards from goal.
Before you could blink, the Moroccan Magician had pulled off an outrageous piece of trickery by first flicking the ball past the defender and then powering past him, using his upper body strength to hold off the challenge then picking his spot with a powerfully placed shot into the bottom right-hand corner for his first goal of the season. And to all the statto’s who keep digging him out this season about his lack of goals, I say ‘forget the quantity, feel the quality’. It was his first QPR goal since he opened the scoring at Vicarage Road eleven months ago to the day, but boy was it worth the wait. As someone once tweeted, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. Taarabt then ran to the corner of Q Block where a fan plonked a fez on his head. It seems that kicking people in the face is ok with Mike Dean, but sporting a red hat is a yellow card offence. I despair sometimes !
It was also noticeable that as we scored Arsene Wenger threw a water bottle from the dug-out to the touchline. Seeing as he had been fined 33k the day before by UEFA for similar childish behaviour, it was strange that the fourth official did nothing. For the next ten to fifteen minutes, the game ebbed and flowed with both teams giving as good as they got, but both defences were coming out on top, We were also starving Van Persie of any service by closing him down as soon as the ball got within twenty yards of him. With Derry protecting the back-four and hardly going over the half-way line, the rest of the midfield harried and hassled Arsenal’s players into losing possession in their own half.
But no fault is accredited when Robin van Persie wormed his way to the edge of the box and slipped Walcott through on goal on the edge of the box and though his first shot hit the post, it re-bounded straight to him to return the ball into the unguarded part of the net for an undeserved equaliser with their first shot from open play. It seemed to deflate our players a little and for the next eight minutes remaining, Arsenal could sense blood it seemed, but our whole team stood resolute as a team with Kenny only having to field one shot which went straight at him form Rosicky. Half-time: 1-1. A great effort from the whole team who had unsettled the visitors from the word go and they were not happy about it.
We started the second-half and the third touch saw Derry wellying the ball straight out of touch by the Paddocks. Within a minute, Mackie did what he does best, chasing lost causes, and chasing down a back-pass to Vermaelen, he seemed to get a touch on the ball and as he went past the defender, he was caught by a trailing leg and was sent sprawling inside the box. The referee and linesman were both unmoved while the Scotsman was incandescent. No water bottle from Mark Hughes or haranguing of the fourth official though !
On 48 minutes, we had our own lucky escape when Bacary Sagna got down the flank and sent in a cross that saw Gibbs evade Mackie’s challenge and put a point blank header inches wide from about six yards out. Five minutes later it was a nervy time as Van Persie lined up a free kick 30 yards from goal following a clumsy challenge by Hill on Arteta, the Spaniard whinged at Hill then at the referee. Just as it looked like Kenny would have his work cut out, Van Persie tapped the ball to Vermaelen who tried his luck, but with Zamora and Derry charging it down, they managed to block the shot to safety.
On 58 minutes, he more than had his work cut out as he faced Van Persie one-on-one for what surely was his first goal in three games, or according to the statto’s, a ‘barren run’. Song fed him 30 yards out from goal as we tried to play him offside and he accelerated at a speed of knots and as he reached the 18-yard line, he hit a left-footed shot arrowing to Kenny’s top left-hand corner. How Kenny saved it is beyond me, but save it he did as he flung himself two-handed to expertly palm the ball out for a corner. My mate said: “That could be the turning point… I think we can do it”. The resulting corner was cleared and as the ball was 35 yards from goal, Diakite robbed Arteta and found Taarabt out by the touchline. He played it to Mackie who returned the favour and Taarabt took a few strides before hitting a venomous 30-yard shot, that although it was straight, such was the power the keeper was forced into a good save.
Just after the hour, the visitors seemed to lose their cool and the referee went for his pocket in quick succession. First Vermaelen ran twenty yards to remonstrate with Mackie over something or other that I didn’t see and it appeared neither did the officials. Had the linesman seen it he would’ve flagged surely. Mackie stood there with his arms stretched out wide while Vermaelen was in his face very aggressively screaming at him. The linesman ran on and stood in Vermaelen’s way to stop him getting into further trouble it seemed. Following a discussion between the two officials, a yellow was shown to both players. Like I said earlier, I despair sometimes !
Then a couple of minutes later, Song was booked for a foul on Barton having been dispossessed by QPR’s captain. It was his third foul on the same player. The visitors were rattled even further a minute later when QPR regained the lead. Nothing seemed on as Arsenal closed down Barton down just in front of the dug-outs. QPR’s No.17 lofted a hopeful ball down the channel for Mackie to try and exploit. With the ball bouncing awkwardly, Mackie seized his chance and side-stepping Vermaelen who was falling over, he strode into the box, looked up and played the ball into the path of the unmarked Diakite some 18 yards out and the Malian sent an unstoppable right-footed shot past the keeper who was rooted to the spot. To paraphrase Katy Perry ‘I kissed a man’, by planting a smacker on the head of the bloke who sits in front of me every game. Hopefully I’ll be doing it in the remaining home games !
We still had 22 minutes remaining, but with what had gone on before, there was nothing for the team to be worried about as they’d performed superbly so far. The only thing that worried me was tiredness against the in-form team in the country. For the remaining time, as you can imagine, we had our backs to the wall, but even had time to hit Arsenal on the break. The saying that: ‘a good team is very dangerous just after conceding’, and so it transpired. From the kick-off, Arsenal were in our box and as Rosicky went to shoot, Taiwo executed the perfect sliding tackle.
The almost invisible Van Persie tried his luck from a set-piece out wide by the touchline in front of Q Block. The tension was unbearable as he lined it up and then hit a rasping shot to Kenny’s near-post and the keeper seemed to be suffering from nerves also as he decided on punching clear rather than attempting to hold onto the ball. Then from a Van Persie corner, again Kenny got the jitters and punched clear, but only as far as Koscielny who volleyed wildly over, under pressure from a defender. Onuoha then executed a perfect sliding tackle as Rosicky cut into the box by the bye-line to concede a corner.
Our midfield and defence were standing strong and cutting out the mistakes that had been prevalent recently. To ease the pressure we used Zamora as an outlet to hold the ball up and he did a superb job with no help from the referee. On the hour, during a break in play, Zamora remonstrated with Mr. Dean about the treatment being meted out to him by Arsenal’s two defenders and the referee just grinned back and nodded his disapproval. Maybe if Arsenal’s defenders were wearing hats, Zamora may have got some better treatment.
On 80 minutes, Arsene Wenger brought on Oxlade-Chamberlain for Arteta and Chamakh for Gibbs. He was getting desperate it seemed, but he could’ve taken off any player such was the collective performance of his team and the biggest offenders were Walcott and Van Persie. Our defence again stood firm and the only time we got worried was when Arsenal hit us on the break and as Walcott chased a through ball, the youngster was beaten to the ball by the veteran Shaun Derry who is not known for his pace it must be said. He received a standing ovation and a rendition of: ‘Shaun Derry My Lord’, and rightly so.
Six minutes remaining, we almost put the game to bed when Diakite robbed an Arsenal player and went on a run down the left wing. He cut inside and fed Barton. The QPR captain delivered a sublime reverse ball behind the left-back for Mackie to run onto and into the box. Looking up into the box, he picked out Barton who hit a first time shot that said ‘goal’ all over it, but somehow the keeper tipped it over the bar. A pity as it would’ve been the perfect ending to a perfect performance from our captain. When the 90 minutes were almost up, the fourth official indicated that there would be four extra minutes played. That was just enough time for the referee to crown his woeful performance by booking three QPR players in quick succession and they weren’t even wearing hats. As the final whistle went the place erupted.
Team: Kenny 9, Onuoha 9, Taiwo 9, Hill 9, Ferdinand 9, Mackie 9, Barton 9, Derry 9, Diakite 9, Taarabt 10, Zamora 9 (Wright-Phillips n/a),
MOTM: Adel Taarabt. Outshone Robin van Persie and even had the temerity to nutmeg two players. His goal was sublime and his all-round performance was superb. He was ably assisted by the whole team who showed a unity that has been lacking recently.
Referee: M. Dean 5. An idiot, end of.
Attendance: 18,033 (including 3,103 away fans)
Best performance of the season and possibly in the past twenty years. The dictionary doesn’t have enough superlatives to describe how good this was. The crowd played their part except for the idiot who threw a coin and hit the linesman as Van Persie lined up a free kick in front of Q Block. You are not wanted at our club so go and do one you cretin.
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)