The Gunners are still sixth in the Premier League after edging Queens Park Rangers 2-1 on Boxing Day, but they have pulled within two points of the Champions League spots. It should have been an easy game but a lack of self-control made it more stressful.
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The manager made two changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Liverpool a week ago by replacing Chambers and Oxlade-Chamberlain with Monreal and Rosicky in the starting lineup. In his first start of the season, Rosicky provided more balance to the team with a lower turnover rate and some slicker passing skills than Chambo. The experience we had in midfield and at the back explained why Queens Park Rangers could only create one chance. Cazorla sacrificed himself by focusing on defensive tasks to let Rosicky pull the strings.
The Hoops attempted to trouble Arsenal by taking a leaf out of Liverpool’s book and used wingbacks to stuff the midfield. However, Henry, Kranjcar and Mutch are not as good as Coutinho, Gerrard and Lucas and could do very little to prevent the Gunners from dominating ball possession under a pouring rain, which favored quick play and technical accuracy.
Arsenal outrageously dominated the match but created very few clear-cut chances because the Hoops played with 10 men behind the ball and some Gunners simply lacked sharpness. Sanchez has always enjoyed a winter break in his career, so I guess he’ll need some rest in the next couple of games. But on Friday, the Chile forward proved a handful for the visitors’ defense with his movement, close control and dribbling skills.
Sanchez’s deep run
The Gunners earned a penalty in the eighth minute after Traore recklessly tackled Sanchez, who was running toward the corner flag. Cazorla was the No. 1 player on the list of penalty takers, but Sanchez wanted to do himself justice, so the selfless Spaniard let Sanchez grab the ball. That proved a poor decision as Sanchez hit a tame low shot that Green easily saved. Sanchez made amends in the 37th by heading home a cross from Gibbs to open the scoring. In that first half, Traore showed why Arsenal released him in 2011. Traore is a pacy fullback but his positional play and decision-making have always been dodgy. He failed to mark Sanchez on the opening goal.
Sanchez had two more scoring opportunities, but he couldn’t slide home Debuchy’s low cross in the 49th and sent a curling shot wide in the 72nd. He also often dropped back to run at the QPR defense. Mutch and Kranjcar received yellow cards for cynical fouls on Sanchez. The Chile forward initiated the second goal with another deep run in the 65th after Cazorla won the ball in midfield. Starting a dash from his own half, Sanchez outpaced Kranjcar and drew two defenders before slipping the ball to Rosicky, who beat Green with a low strike for a 2-0 lead.
Rosicky’s through balls
Rosicky brought back some fluency in the Gunners’ passing game. He slipped a through ball to Sanchez in the 15th but Traore got ahead of the Chile forward to clear the danger. The Czech playmaker then fed Welbeck, who was fouled by Ferdinand in the 27th. In the second half, Giroud chased a long ball from Rosicky, and collided with Green after Onuoha shoved the Frenchman from behind. Giroud lost his temper and headbutted Onuoha. The referee had no other choice but to send Giroud off, forcing the Gunners to play the last 40 minutes with 10 men. That was a silly reaction but the referee should have also given Onuoha a yellow card for dirty play.
While the referee made the right decisions for Sanchez’s penalty and Giroud’s red card, he also blew a couple of calls. Atkinson failed to give Arsenal two more penalties as Onuoha held Welbeck with both arms in the 25th and Fer kicked Mertesacker’s foot in the 76th. Instead of leading 3-0, the Gunners had to face a nervy finish. A wrongfooted Debuchy tripped Hoilett in the 78th to give away a soft penalty that Austin converted. That was really a stupid foul for such an experienced defender as Debuchy. If you are wrongfooted when a winger cuts inside, the best option is to spin 180 degrees for a block or a safer challenge.
Welbeck’s poor scoring form
Sanchez may feel exhausted but he was still our best forward on Friday. Giroud had a curling free kick palmed away by Green in the 28th and a goal attempt blocked by Ferdinand in the 32nd. His ejection means that he will miss the next three games and therefore limit the manager’s options for rotating. Welbeck had a weaker impact than Giroud. His only chance, a first-time effort straight into Green’s gloves, came from a Sanchez cutback in the 74th.
The main issue with Welbeck is not his work ethic, which is commendable, but his lack of efficiency. Welbeck has only scored three goals in 15 Premier League matches this season, compared to five for Giroud in nine games. The England striker needs to be more decisive, otherwise once everybody will be fit, he’ll head back to the bench.
The main positive from Friday’s victory was how the Gunners limited the Hoops to just one scoring chance. It was a basic lapse of concentration two minutes after the opening goal. Vargas had plenty of space for a cross that an unmarked Caulker headed wide. Wenger replaced Rosicky with Chambers in the 83rd and Welbeck with Coquelin in the 88th to protect the lead. Coquelin gifted QPR a set piece in the fourth minute of stoppage time with a stupid foul but Kranjcar blazed the free kick over the bar.
The case for resting Sanchez
The Gunners could move back into fourth place on Sunday if they beat West Ham while the Saints lose to Chelsea. One key factor might be rotation. The risk of an injury is pretty high with just one full day of rest. Would you put Sanchez’s health at risk, knowing he is the most important player in the squad right now and has already made 26 appearances for the club this season? Let’s remember that Ramsey pulled his hamstring against West Ham a year ago and was sidelined for more than three months.