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View From The North Bank: Arsenal 1 QPR 0

To say that 2011 was an eventful year for Arsenal would be an understatement. It had just about everything, except a trophy.
We saw players come and go. We beat Barcelona and lost to Barcelona. We beat United and lost, heavily, to United. We battered Chelsea and lost to Stoke. We threw away points, and silverware, against teams not fit to lace our boots. Robin Van Persie stayed fit for a year and proved he was the best striker in England. We’ve celebrated our 125th anniversary, saluted legends and, it would seem, invited one to come home.
With all that’s gone on in the last year, to reach 2012 having worked our way back into the top four is a bit of a relief.
The more mature Arsenal which arrived as a result of summer transfer activity are more controlled than teams that have gone before but they’ve managed to retain the typically Arsenal-like eye for drama.

Home games against teams in the bottom half of the table, in which you have upwards of 60% possession and create chance after chance should be relatively comfortable affairs. Not for Arsenal. We always seem intent on making heavy work of such occassions.

The proximity of our last two games and the way they’ve both panned out made it feel like when the final whistle blew on Saturday evening, we may as well have just stayed in our seats, asked Wolves to change into blue and white hoops and kicked off again.

Both games should have been out of sight by half time but we found ourselves fully engaged in battle until the final whistle.

In all fairness, we never looked in danger of conceding in this game. Koscielny handled the physical threat of Bothroyd with confidence whilst Mertesacker looked assured throughout. Big Per doesn’t get the credit he deserves in my view. Of course, his size and lack of pace can make him look a bit cumbersome at times but his positional play is excellent. You’re unlikely to see him making a last ditch recovering tackle but that’s often because he’s dealt with the problem earlier on. It doesn’t look as heroic but it’s equally as important.

Again, it was at the other end that we had problems. Arshavin and Walcott struggled to take advantage of our dominance and Van Persie missed a handful of good opportunities. When Gervinho came on he was as fast and direct as we’ve become accustomed but equally as wasteful. If he can develop his end product he’ll be a key player for years to come.

It was eventually a perfectly weighted through ball from Arshavin to Van Persie that broke the deadlock. Van Persie claimed the Arsenal record for goals in a calender year from Henry, and saluted the Frenchman in celebration.  The pass from Arshavin proved that even when he’s struggling he still got the ability to do something of note.

After his assist he was immediately more active, drifting inside in an effort to influence the game further. A ten minute spell in one game doesn’t prove an awful lot but it does add weight to the argument that Arshavin is more suited to playing in a central role, where he did for Zenith and still does for Russia. He’s not ideally suited to the wide role occupied for Arsenal yet our current formation doesn’t lend itself to deployment in his more preferred role.

We’ve now only managed a single goal in our last four home league matches. There is a need for additional firepower, as well as Henry, however this shouldn’t detract from the need from a greater contribution from those already there. Arshavin, Walcott and Gervinho all need to make good on their goalscoring potential whilst Chamakh and Park need to capitalise on any opportunity they get in weeks to come.

2012 begins with a pleasant if challenging trip to Craven Cottage. Aside from their recent 5-0 drubbing at the hands of United Fulham are usually pretty miserly hosts. The likelihood that RVP will only feature from the bench means we’ll need those aforementioned contributions today if we are to take maximum points.

In general I’d hope that this year was calmer than the last. Hopefully the drama in 2012 will stem from last gasp winners rather than damaging late concessions and from high profile acquisitions rather than departures. A trophy wouldn’t be bad either.

Happy New Year – Keep The Faith.