Champions League spot favourites Arsenal in tricky battle against relegation fighters QPR
With a win against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, Arsenal will take their tally to 8 games unbeaten in the Premier League.
They are placed 3rd in the table and the other similarity they share with their opponents other than geography is that Rangers are also 3rd but from the opposite end of the table.
A new manager galvanizes a club and the footballing world expected a manager of Mark Hughes pedigree to do just that. Under him, QPR have 1 win in 10 Premier League games. The solitary win against Liverpool was a insane story of the Reds capitulating to ship 3 goals in the final 13 minutes squandering a 2 goal lead. Shocking to say the least.
Bobby Zamora who was shipped out from Fulham has found the net just once in 7 league games. Djibriel Cisse has received 2 red cards in 4 matches while netting 3 goals in 5 matches. He’s costing the team in this relegation dogfight even after scoring crucial goals.
Other high profile names are not showing up like Joey Barton, Heidar Helguson and the enigmatic Shaun Wright Phillips whose once very bright career has been in major freefall since his unnecessary purchase from Man city by then Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.
Recently, Rangers lost to Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves. These are games in which they were hoping to pick up precious points against fellow strugglers who have been in and out of the drop zone all season long.
Now QPR have joined that unenviable group. As if the timing could not have been worse for their plummet down the table, they still have to face Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham. It does not make for good reading for QPR fans.
Arsenal are a study in contrast. 7 games unbeaten in the Premier League and a 3-0 win over AC Milan at the Emirates in their Champions League swansong.
Their 4-0 humiliation at the San Siro and subsequent FA cup exit to Sunderland mere days later seem like a distant memory but Arsenal have a knack for the unpredictable and one bad result could send them toppling again. It would be bad timing because Chelsea and spurs have decided to kick into a higher gear.
Interestingly, the absence of Aaron Ramsey and Bacary Sagna’s return heralded the resurgence of an Arsenal side given up for dead beginning in that North London win over Tottenham. Indeed, this raises questions as to Ramsey’s effectiveness in the squad.
Other players like Kieran Gibbs, Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott and Thomas Vermalaen have all begun to step up to the plate and it looks like a case of Arsenal reborn. Maybe that very intense shellacking from former player Emmanuel Petit who advocated jettisoning the likes of Walcott and Rosicky was an inadvertent catalyst to kick start the remainder of a tottering campaign.
In their last match against Aston Villa, Walcott and Gibbs netted a goal apiece making them the first English duo to score in the same match since 1997. In the past, Arsene Wenger’s always taken a lot of stick for fielding the most “foreign” team in the Premier League and his faith in these young men seem to be paying off.
Arteta rolled back the clock to his early Everton days when he regularly scored the sort of stunner he did against Villa. Wenger seems to have restrained Arteta in a more defensive role but would perhaps consider giving him more of a free rein as he was allowed at Merseyside. The only downside will be the absence of Laurent Koscielny at the back to be replaced by Johann Djourou.
Expect no surprises on Saturday in the manner in which QPR humbled Liverpool. Arsenal are up and running and if all else fails, they still have Robin Van Persie who scored the winner against Rangers the last time out.
Wenger’s stuck to his guns and his gunners are going great guns. But Hughes will have to be the tinker man and he has the quality on the bench. Can he get them out of the doldrums? Perhaps. But not on Saturday.