Arsenal started their five game Christmas programme with a defeat to Manchester City, but they bounced back to beat Aston Villa 2-1 a few days later. Their next game was against Wolves last Tuesday, and despite their best efforts they ended up drawing 1-1 at home. They have taken only four points from the first three of those Christmas games so far, and it's vital for them that they win the final two games.
QPR visit the Emirates tomorrow on a run of only two points from six games, but their best results have all come away from home so far this season. Wolves had lost six away games in a row before they visited Arsenal, and it's possible that Arsenal switched off a little when they went 1-0 ahead of them early on. No team in the Premier League can be underestimated, and Arsenal have to keep their concentration for every minute of every game.
Arsenal created more than enough chances to beat Wolves easily, but a combination of good goalkeeping and poor finishing meant they had to settle for a draw. Robin van Persie went into that game needing three goals to break Alan Shearer's record for the most Premier League goals in a calendar year. He will now have to score three goals against QPR if the record is to be his, but the three points are far more important for him and the club too.
Theo Walcott is available again after he missed the game with Wolves through illness, but otherwise the are no players to return to the squad. Arsene Wenger said that Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna could be back before the end of January, but Abu Diaby appears to have disappeared off the face of the earth. I would be surprised if Walcott didn't start, and I expect Aaron Ramsey to return to the team too.
With the trip to Fulham only 48 hours away Wenger might be tempted to use a few of the fringe players against QPR, but I think Arsenal need to play their strongest team to make sure of the three points. Arsenal can only play one game at a time, and more points dropped at home would be a huge disappointment. If they can beat QPR and then Fulham too it would give them a 10 point return from five games over the festive season.
After a fairly good start to their season QPR have gradually slid down the table, and they find themselves only two places above the relegation zone. They have money to spend in the January transfer window, and it looks like it can't come quickly enough for them. They will bring a couple of players with them that are familiar faces at Arsenal.
Arsenal sold Armand Traore to QPR just before the transfer window closed in August, and he's a player who never really got a lot of chances at the club. He was a left back who looked really good going forward, but he was very suspect in the most important part of his game. I was never convinced that he was defensively good enough to play for Arsenal, and I think that's the reason that he was sold.
QPR will also bring Joey Barton with them, and he's a player who seems to enjoy playing against Arsenal. He was the player who was responsible for getting Gervinho sent off when Arsenal played his old club Newcastle in the first game of the new season. His claim that Gervinho had punched him in the face was a joke, but it shows the depths that a serial thug and cheat like Barton will sink to.
I'm not saying that Gervinho should not have been sent off, but equally Arsenal should have had a penalty for the foul on him and for Barton dragging him to his feet afterwards. The referee was an absolute joke in his handling of the situation, but under FA rules that doesn't mean a thing. He could not have seen the mild slap by Gervinho on Barton, which means he believed Barton's version of affairs.
The previous season Barton was in the Newcastle team that came from four goals down to draw four all with Arsenal. It was his disgraceful tackle on Diaby that led to the Frenchman's retaliation and red card, but the referee let Barton away with it yet again. I hope the Arsenal players can keep their cool when faced with Barton, but I know if it was me I would target him for some payback.
It would be ever so sweet to see Barton receive his marching orders, as QPR are put to the sword by Arsenal. I would be equally happy to see him have no influence on the game, as Arsenal run out easy winners. I'm sure the Arsenal fans won't forget to let him know how they feel about him.
I think Arsenal can win this game by a couple of goals at least, as long as they approach it in the right way. QPR have found it difficult to score goals, and they have leaked quite a few at the other end too. They are on a very bad run at the moment, and Arsenal need to ensure they don't get a foothold in the game.
If Arsenal take the lead they have to do all they can to get a second goal, and maybe even a third too. The game with Wolves showed how fragile a one goal lead can be, and they simply cannot afford to let another lead slip at home. Heidar Helguson needs to be watched from set pieces, as he's on a good goalscoring run at the moment.
Arsenal have a lot more players that need to be closely watched of course, and QPR will have to fight tooth and nail to have any hope in this game. They have won three times away from home so far this season, and only once at home. Even if they defend as well as Wolves did they will have to have lady luck on their side, and I hope that doesn't happen again.
I think Arsenal will look to put the Wolves game behind them by putting pressure on QPR from the start, and they will run out 2-0 winners. I think the record is probably beyond RVP now, but I still think he will get at least one goal. I know Arsenal's attacking options are limited by their lack of full backs at the moment, but I still expect them to make plenty of chances.
In other news Wenger revealed that the deal to bring Thierry Henry back to Arsenal on loan for January and February is almost complete, but he's not sure when he will be available to play. I doubt if he will be able to play against QPR, but I hope to see him play a part against Leeds in the FA Cup a week later. It will be a momentus occasion to see him in the red and white shirt again, and I'm sure he will get a magnificent welcome from the fans.
With Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh heading off to African Cup of Nations duty in the next wek or so there will be opportunities for him to show what he can still do. I'm looking forward to it myself, and it looks like it's only a matter of dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's" at this stage. Hopefully the return of the king will help to bring some success to Arsenal this season.
That's it for today.
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