Arsenal played QPR yesterday at home in the Premier League knowing that they needed a win to keep up the pressure on the teams above them. They had missed a great chance to close that gap when they only managed to draw 1-1 at home to Wolves on Tuesday. Arsenal had been struggling to score goals at home recently, but QPR had failed to win any of their previous six games.
The day started well for Arsenal when Manchester United lost 3-2 at home to Blackburn Rovers, but Liverpool had gone ahead of them by beating Newcastle the previous night. Chelsea and Spurs both had games which they were expected to lose, and Arsenal needed three points to maintain their fifth place at least.
Arsene Wenger picked what was almost his strongest team with the exception of Andrey Arshavin playing instead of Gervinho. Arsenal have to go to Fulham tomorrow evening, and there will be very little time for players to recover from their exertions against QPR. It was certainly a team which was more than capable of beating their opponents who were struggling near the wrong end of the table.
Arsenal started a little slowly which seems to be the norm for them at the moment, but they picked their game up once QPR had given them a slight scare. Robin van Persie needed three goals to beat Alan Shearer's record for the most Premier League goals in a calender year, and three chances came his way in the first half. Unfortunately for RVP and the team he failed to take any of them, and the teams were tied 0-0 at half time.
The news filtered through that Spurs were winning at Swansea, and Chelsea were drawing at home to Villa after being ahead early on. Arsenal needed to up the pace and find a goal from somewhere before their festive campaign became a flop.
Things weren't helped early in the second half when Thomas Vermaelen limped off to be replaced by Francis Coquelin. Arsenal's lack of fit full backs has been a real trouble for them in recent weeks, and even the players filling in for them are picking up injuries. Vermaelen will be out for a few weeks, and Wenger will have to decide who takes his place against Fulham tomorrow.
Arsenal were struggling to open QPR up, but Theo Walcott had a great chance when he was played in on the keeper. His finish was very poor, and he's usually a lot better in those situations coming in from the left in particular. The breakthrough didn't take much longer though, thanks to a lot of help from QPR.
Shaun Wright-Phillips played an awful pass from midfield straight to Arshavin, who slipped a perfect ball through for RVP. He finished first time into the corner, and the pressure was off the Arsenal players at last. Soon afterwards Gervinho missed a great chance when RVP set him up, and it didn't look like another goal was coming.
QPR tried to get back into the game and they caused Arsenal a few problems, but they never really looked like scoring. The biggest worry was that they would get something from a set piece, but thankfully Arsenal stayed strong to run out 1-0 winners.
The full time scores from elsewhere came through, and Chelsea's defeat to Villa meant Arsenal were in the top four at last. The season is now halfway over and Arsenal are in the Champions League qualifying places, which would have been unthinkable only 12 games ago. The good results continued on Sunday when Manchester City fell to a last minute Sunderland goal.
Arsenal are now only nine points off the leaders, and a victory at Fulham would close that gap to six points before the teams above them play on Tuesday and Wednesday. That game against Fulham won't be easy, but hopefully the result against QPR and their opponents' results will give the team a lift.
The poor standard of refereeing continued in the game, as Arsenal were denied what I thought should have been a penalty in the first half. A Laurent Koscielny shot was blocked by a QPR defender with his arms above his head, and I thought Arsenal should have got the penalty.
The games are coming thick and fast at the moment, and obviously Arsenal aren't the only team suffering from the hectic schedule. The extra days rest for Spurs and United will do them some good, but there's no sense in complaining about it. Arsenal need to put everything they have into beating Fulham, and then take advantage of the week long break until their next game.
That will be a home game in the FA Cup against Leeds United, and it could mark the return of Thierry Henry to the team. The deal to bring him on loan to Arsenal should be through by then, and it would be great to see him in the red and white in just over a week's time. Arsenal may be without both Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh for that game, as they are scheduled to go on international duty two days earlier.
The club are hoping to be allowed to keep them until after the Leeds game, but they will then be playing for their countries in the African Cup of Nations. Henry will fill in while they are away, but it will still leave the squad a little short. The most important thing is for the team to keep taking points in the Premier League so that they can keep their precious fourth place.
The FA Cup might be Arsenal's best hope of a trophy this season, but league points are far more important in my opinion. It will be very interesting to see what team Wenger plays in the FA Cup. One player who won't be playing is Emmanuel Frimpong, as he has gone on loan to Wolves for the rest of the season.
That's it for today except to wish a happy new year to all my readers.
Here's the highlights of yesterday's game.
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