The Russian Factor

There are two kinds of outsiders in a league. One of them is not so obvious, and certainly not like the other. The Gunners have for awhile now been the team that’s either getting late goals or scoring by chance, and barely eking out three points. Wenger’s challenge this season is coming up with a consistent way to score. Once any system changes, one has to adapt. We haven’t seen much adaptation yet, but we’ve certainly been shown the possible options.

Jack Wilshere‘s performance in the starting lineup was spectacular.

One of the few Arsenal players to pose a threat to QPR’s highly skilled keeper Julio Cesar, Wilshere’s presence in the match was most notable. Giroud has been pretty good on the pitch in the last few games as well. Lukas Podolski has so far been the big disappointment for the Gunners, failing to bring his National Team and Bundesliga skills to the club. Despite his teammates’ performance, the first half was a major flop. Arsenal maintained possession and even tested Cesar’s net a few times, but playing against a last-place QPR, their chances should have come every two minutes, if not 30 seconds.

Though Wenger made no halftime subs, he certainly fired up his players. The Gunners came back on the pitch with a bit more urgency. Arteta’s free kick gave Podolski one of his few well-executed shots, and Arsenal’s first real encounter with the net. Cesar’s save quickly transferred to a counter by the Rangers, and the game was just getting started. QPR’s Sean Wright-Phillips continued to hover around Arsenal’s box, but it was the Gunners who failed to take their best shot of the match. A wonderful delivery from Walcott gave Cazorla the perfect opportunity just 12 yards shy of the net, but the Spaniard managed to miss. Anyone would easily think it just wasn’t meant to be for Arsenal, and they wouldn’t know just how wrong they were. The Rangers were down to 10 men after Mbia’s pointless, reckless retaliation on Vermaelen got him sent off. The referee had not noticed Vermaelen’s initial challenge. With a little help from Lady Luck, Arsenal were back in business. An unfortunate Julio Cesar failed to keep a clean sheet, despite having done all he could to prevent the Gunners from scoring. Just moments before conceding, the Brazilian keeper saved the ball after a pinball series, deflecting the shot mere inches away from the goal line in a heroic jump. The great combination came seconds after Andrei Arshavin came on the pitch. The Russian went on to provide a brilliant cross on the left flank. Cesar saved another pinball effort, but Arteta’s goal on the rebound was inevitable. Cesar went in for a diving save after Aaron Ramsey’s shot on a half-volley, preventing the Gunners from a 2-0 win. Former Real Madrid midfielder Esteban Granero had a few good ideas for the guests and nearly got his team the equalizer in the last minute of regulation time after Taarabt’s delivery. The Spaniard vied against both Wilshere and Cazorla earlier on, and was lucky enough to only get one yellow. In a sense, luck was on either side today.

It took one substitution to turn the match around. The lesson for Wenger here is simple: don’t underestimate the Russians. The Russian Premier League has created quite a few impressive players over the years. Pavel Pogrebnyak, who had his start at Spartak Moscow, did wonders at Fulham, scoring 5 goals in 3 games, including a classic hat-trick against the Wolves in which he scored from both of his feet as well as his head. Needless to say, the Russian’s move to Reading had upset Fulham manager Martin Jol at the time. Then there was Yuri Zhirkov, whose defensive skills prevented Chelsea from conceding several goals in their Champions League match against Inter Milan in March 2010. Of course, several RPL stars have failed to shine on English soil, regardless of their talents. Andriy Voronin, who saw great success alongside Kevin Kuranyi at Dynamo Moscow, started off well for Liverpool in ’07 but failed to continue his goal-scoring streak after recovering from an injury. Many will remember that former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp constantly benched striker Pavlyuchenko, despite the Russian’s success at Spartak and his National Team. Wenger can’t be making the same mistakes that got Benitez and Redknapp on a downward slope. He needs to refurbish the starting lineup. Out of all the possible changes to be made, perhaps the most crucial is giving Andrei Arshavin more playing time. While it’s still unclear exactly who’s going to step it up for Arsenal, from the looks of it, Arshavin might just be able to rekindle both his own and his team’s successes. It all starts with giving him a chance.

Barclays Premier League - 9th Matchweek

Saturday, October 27, 2012, 10:00AM EST

Arsenal FC vs. Queens Park Rangers – 1:0 (0:0)

Arena: Emirates Stadium (London)

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Manchester)

Goals:

1:0 Mikel Arteta (84′)

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