GiveMeSport live from Loftus Road
Arsenal were late arriving at Loftus Road for tonight’s visit to QPR thanks to heavy traffic in West London, which may explain why they decided to play with the handbrake on during a tentative start to this capital clash.
Gunners fans who travel to away matches are fast getting used to watching their side sit deep and invite pressure, surely a by-product of the much-lauded 2-0 win over Manchester City two months ago.
Arsene Wenger’s side moved through the gears in the second half and strikes in quick succession from Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez should serve as a warning to Wenger, don’t forget that Arsenal are at their very best when using searing pace down the flanks to terrorise sides of inferior quality.
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Full-backs were both very impressive
Arsenal’s joy either side of half-time in what proved a far more testing trip than many expected was always down the flanks, with Hector Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs able to create time and space by overlapping.
Gibbs in particular looked far more threatening than Sanchez at times and the opening goal proved just that. In his 150th start for Arsenal the left-back made a near 70-yard run to maximise the opportunity created by quick thinking from Mesut Ozil and Sanchez, before finding Giroud to scramble home from close range.
That wonderful break on the counter was a throwback of a goal Arsenal used to score far more regularly in a more successful time under Wenger, matching pace with speed of thought before an exposed opposition have time to react.
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Gibbs makes a point in 150th Arsenal start
Wenger has preferred Nacho Monreal for much of 2015 but Gibbs has a unique selling point the Spaniard simply cannot match, the ability to bomb beyond Sanchez and make a meaningful impact in the final third.
Under pressure to be cautious in certain matches away from home Monreal's selection is more understandable, but not with all due respect when a struggling Hoops side are the opposition.
Bellerin has huge raw potential
The Gunners also looked threatening throughout thanks to the rapid Hector Bellerin on the opposite flank.
Wenger made the curious decision to start Tomas Rosicky wide on the right ahead of Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck or even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but it was a tactical ploy to create space Bellerin could take advantage of.
Bellerin has earned a reputation as a speed demon in training-ground tests at London Colney and its entirely justified, although there needs to be more end product to match before we can start getting too carried away.
Late on we also saw the double-edged sword playing with full-backs who want to get forward can bring, particularly if you have a soft centre.
Arsenal gifted a man in Charlie Austin who has a thunderous shot the chance to shoot unchallenged in the 82nd minute and paid a heavy price, with the striker finding the back of the net with a tremendous strike.
Wenger still searching for the right balance
There-in lies the balance which Wenger is wrestling with internally, his instinct is always to attack but this particular Arsenal squad has endured so many away day blues that should probably be the pre-dominant colour of their alternate strip rather than yellow.
Wenger also has a squad finally getting near something close to full fitness in terms of attacking options, which means he's going to make some players very unhappy every time he picks a team.
Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain didn't even feature this evening, with Aaron Ramsey instead returning as a late replacement for Rosicky to help shore things up late on and Welbeck a stoppage-time addition.
Quite how Wenger expects to keep everyone happy remains a mystery but the message is clear, with that many tremendously exciting players capable of hurting teams with pace it would be negligent for Arsenal not to play with that at anything but the forefront of their thinking.
Pace scares defenders witless more than any other attribute, so Arsenal have to use their unique selling point more efficiently to harbour genuine hopes of a title challenge or even breaking into the top two moving forward.
Arsenal fans, do you think Wenger is striking the right balance between attack and defence this season? Can he keep all his exciting options going forward happy between now and the end of the season? Let us know by having your say in the comment box below!
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