Our recent form had been so good that one or two ridiculous articles surfaced over the last week talking up our title chances for next season. Well, as if to remind even the most blind Arsenal fan that there is still plenty wrong at our great club, we managed to turn in an insipid performance and lose to a woeful QPR team. More importantly, we blew the chance to pull six points clear of Spurs and heap massive pressure on them ahead of their match with Swansea tomorrow.
So how did we manage that? Two main reasons I think. Firstly, we have started to believe our own hype and began the game as if our mere superior presence on the pitch would be enough to take all three points. It’s only little QPR, they’re crap, right? This haughty attitude meant we were caught off guard as the pumped up hosts ran their socks off to close us down and deny us time on the ball.
I thought we’d overcome such arrogance, but it appears not. Blackburn, Fulham, Swansea, Sunderland in the cup and now QPR have beaten us because they wanted it more and were willing to run through brick walls for a win.
When they did have possession it was either lumped to Zamora (who always seems to give us problems despite his mediocrity) or played into Taraabt, whose quick feet and willingness to run at us troubled our defenders all game long. Contrast his performance with Theo’s, who despite his goal continues to be frustratingly inconsistent. Too often when he had possession he dropped it off to Sagna or played an easy pass infield. He should be far more eager to run at his marker, but tends to shy away from the responsibility and as a result our attacks peter out.
One person who doesn’t do that is Oxlade-Chamberlain, which brings me neatly on to the second reason we lost — Wenger’s team selection. I am yet again angry and frustrated that Ramsey was selected in a wide left position. We got away with it against Everton, but not today. He constantly drifted infield, which is only natural as he is a central midfielder and has played there over 30 times already this season. His instincts therefore mean he won’t hug the touchline to give us width on that flank. This meant our play was predictable and easy to defend as all QPR had to do was string bodies across their penalty area and pick us off when we tried to thread balls through to van Persie.
Where was the Ox, gaffer?
Now I’m not blaming Ramsey, it’s not his fault he was asked to play out there and I think he’ll be become a good player if he’s blooded properly. But he should’ve been subbed at half time after, like the whole team, an impotent display which saw us lucky to go in on level terms. Taraabt had given QPR a deserved lead when a nothing ball was allowed to reach him and he turned Vermaelen far too easily before slipping it wide of Szczesny. Walcott’s equaliser came when he reacted well after his own shot had hit the post to turn the loose ball home.
We started the second half much better, but still only created one good chance when van Persie latched onto Song’s through ball and was denied by Paddy Kenny. That’s three games without a goal now, something of a drought by his high standards, and things aren’t going for him the way they have done this season.
QPR made us pay on 66 minutes when Vermaelen slipped outside the penalty area and the ball was cut back to the unmarked Diakite, who struck it past Szczesny for 2-1.
Only then, far too late of course, did Wenger decide to take off Ramsey. But instead of replacing him with the Ox, he gave Gervinho the nod.
Now this is where I have a major issue with Wenger’s policy. We currently have two players capable of playing wide left — Gervinho and the Ox. Gervinho has literally done nothing of note since December. Playing in the African Nations seems to have had an adverse effect on him and he is very much out of form. Then you have the Ox, who has bags of confidence, was Man of the Match against Milan three weeks ago and is chomping at the bit to take opponents on. Every time he plays he is dangerous, but Wenger doesn’t want to pick him anymore. How has he slipped to third in the pecking order behind an out of form Gervinho and not-even-a-winger Ramsey?!
I’ll tell you how. Because while most managers base their selections on form and fitness, Wenger factors his players’ development into the equation. Ramsey started today and at Everton because he has been at Arsenal for almost four years and Wenger wants to develop his asset. While most managers can concentrate on results, Wenger must balance this with developing players to sell for profit. He even admitted we need to raise £15-£20 million from transfers each season and this is how he does it.
After losing his place in the San Siro debacle, Wenger was desperate to fit Ramsey into the starting line-up somewhere and Gervinho’s lack of form gave him an opening. After all, there is plenty of time yet for the Ox to develop, so he has to wait behind Gervinho and Ramsey. If Wenger had to pick a team to play for his life today I bet he’d have picked the Ox.
There’s also the added possibility he is desperate for Oxlade-Chamberlain not to go to the Euros, despite what he says publicly. Going to a major tournament at a very young age set Theo back and maybe Wenger is worried about the effect it could have on the Ox. So by keeping him out of the limelight he reduces that chance.
Either way, in selecting Ramsey he had long-term objectives in mind instead of picking the best team available to get a vital win under our belts today. To me, that’s unforgivable. As usual from Arsenal it smacks of false economy, because on a day when Chelsea closed the gap on us, if we now miss out on the Champions League because of these three dropped points and a halt to our momentum that’s £40m we’ll miss out on.
And that’s far more than we’ll ever get for Ramsey anyway.
Now we have to hope Swansea do us a favour tomorrow against a Tottenham team who’ll be lifted by our failure today. It’s still in our hands of course, but until we get back to doing things properly on and off the pitch our top four spot is by no means a certainty.
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