Queen’s Park Rangers 1 (Austin 82) – Arsenal 2 (Giroud 64, Sanchez 69)
Man of the Match – Francis Coquelin (Arsenal)
Having recovered from the shock 3-1 loss at home to Monaco in the first leg of the Round of 16 in the Champions League, with a solid 2-0 home win against Everton, Arsenal made the trip across London for a clash with relegation strugglers Queen’s Park Rangers. QPR, lie in 18th position, level on points with 17th placed Aston Villa and 19th placed Burnley, with only goal difference seperating the 3 teams.
QPR have been in dreadful form this year, having lost 5, drawn 1 and won only 1, a 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. The only bright light for QPR this season has been the form of striker Charlie Austin, who has scored 15 goals in the Premier League, and is leading their fight for survival. There was a change at the helm when Harry Redknapp was sacked and replaced by Chris Ramsey till the end of the season.
Laurent Koscielny was rested for this one, and the manager started the centre-back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista for the first time. Francis Coquelin started, albeit with a mask that made him look like some superhero, while Tomas Rosicky was rewarded for his recent performances and goals against Brighton and Everton, with a start. The pacy English trio of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck were all named on the bench. Wojciech Szczesny pulled out with an illness, which meant there was a place for young Argentine Emiliano Martinez on the bench.
Queen’s Park Rangers started in earnest, and David Ospina was set for a busy match all night. Arsenal struggled to hold on to the ball, against a QPR side that seemed hungry and keen on taking control of a match on the small Loftus Road pitch. Up front, Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora were proving to be more than a handful for Mertesacker and Paulista. QPR went with the long ball approach and used the physical presence of their strikers to unsettle the Arsenal defence. Austin tried a couple of shots from distance, both of which were easily saved by Ospina.
Coquelin was all action in the centre of the park, but the rest of Arsenal’s midfield was extremely sloppy, giving away the ball at regular intervals making life hard for the defenders. Rosicky, who had been lauded for his strong performances recently, seemed to be having an off day, as he gave away the ball several times, even in situations when there seemed to be little or no pressure. Arsenal’s real first chance of the game came in the 22nd minute, when Olivier Giroud found space behind QPR’s defence and tested Robert Green with a low shot.
Arsenal seemed to get better in the next few minutes, but QPR fought hard not to wrest the tempo to Arsenal. Arsenal were struggling to put together their passing game on a crowded pitch, as the home side continued to haggle the Arsenal midfield. Scotland international Matty Phillips then swung in a cross from the left, which Ospina managed to push away with a dive, only to Austin, whose volley went just wide, with the Colombian keeper in no shape to react. In the midst of all this, Gabriel was taken off due to an injury and replaced by Laurent Koscielny.
QPR defender Nedum Onouha, once of Manchester City, too was injured and Arsenal looked to capitalize on this. Giroud and Cazorla combined well, before the latter unleashed a volley, that was pushed away by Green. Veteran defender Clint Hill replaced Nedum Onouha as the half drew to a close. A half which was mostly dominated by the home side.
Arsenal looked a completely different team in the second half, and nearly scored in the opening minutes of the half. Rosicky made a fine darting run and crossed it to Mesut Ozil, who was just two yards away, but was pulled back by QPR midfielder Karl Henry, which denied Ozil the chance to score. Alexis collected the ball, but could only find the lower part of the post.
Alexis was in the thick of things by now, and having not scored in the last 7 games (his last goals were the brace in a 3-0 win against Stoke City) he seemed eager to put things right. Two his efforts went just wide as the hour mark approached, and in the 64th minute Arsenal got the breakthrough they were looking for. His dart towards the QPR area drew defenders towards him, and gave Gibbs a free run on the flank, and the left-back’s shot was blocked, but it fell to Giroud who scrambled the ball past the line to score. 1-0 Arsenal.
Alexis continued to trouble Rob Green, and his powerful shot troubled the England goalie. Green won the battle again, when the Chilean couldn’t convert having been sent through for a 1 on 1. He eventually managed to score though, to put Arsenal firmly in the driving seat. Collecting the ball from Kieran Gibbs on the left flank, he danced past static QPR defenders to squirm the ball between Green and the post to score his 19th goal of the season.
Hector Bellerin was outstanding on the night and his pace kept Arsenal buzzing. One of his crosses was met by Ozil, whose effort struck the post. QPR, buoyed by a vociferous home support, trudged on, and bought the game back to life with a goal. Charlie Austin turned inside the box and netted his 16th goal of the season to halve the deficit to 1-2.
Arsene Wenger replaced a tiring Tomas Rosicky with Aaron Ramsey, even as QPR looked to equalize in the dying moments. Arsenal managed to hold on to a glorious 3 points, that keeps them in 3rd and all set to take on Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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