That was the crawling part of the process. The first step towards recovering from the successive defeats, the start of what hopefully is more consistent and better performance from us. It wasn’t easy, even against a side that is bottom of the table. In truth, it was a dogged performance which reflected where we are in terms of confidence and no big margin thrashing was ever on the cards.
The team needed a lift after last week and it came early in the day when Jack Wilshere received word that he’ll be starting this game. I think that was the bit of boost that the team needed going into the game. The return of the most talented player in the squad to first team football after 14 months on the sidelines. Wilshere slotted seamlessly back into the side and looked like he was never away. The thing with him is that he doesn’t take unnecessary touches, always using the run of the ball to get away from his first markers. Such awareness of where the opposition are, is not something which can be taught. It’s natural ability. It will be a few more games down the road before we can expect to see the Wilshere we saw before his injury but all signs are pointing the positive direction.
But Wilshere wasn’t the only returnee, as Bacary Sagna was also restored to the starting line-up. It’s a bit cruel on Carl Jenkinson who has performed above expectations during Sagna’s absence. However, the young pretender could ask for no better role model to help him along the professional footballer route. Sagna also looked superb on his return and offered us a little more in the attacking sense on the right hand side. He might have come out with some dubious statement on how the summer transfers have been conducted but it would hard to match any lack of effort against that statement. For Sagna doesn’t really leave anything in the locker and it was another 100% effort from him. Just look at his celebration for the winning goal.
Those were the only two changes from the side that lost to Shalke in midweek. Aaron Ramsey stayed on the right hand side of the attacking trio and Andre Santos keeping his place, despite a shoddy performance in that Champions League match. Neither had the best games of their lives but in comparison, both produced massively improved performance than they did in the previous games. Santi Cazorla had a quieter game than usual, for the most parts. Perhaps because the focus was so much more on Wilshere and the Spaniard had to accommodate for that, even in the passages of play and positioning. When Wilshere went off, Cazorla resumed what he did best.
The first half was tepid with neither side creating much chances. QPR were comfortably sitting with their two banks of four and repelled anything we could throw at them. Chances were at a premium and when it did came, it was from position further away from goal. We were limited to shots from distance with Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski taking aims. Neither did more than warming the hands of Julio Cesar. It was rather one way traffic and the worry that QPR might then go on a break and score on the first attempt. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
We started the second half brighter but still could not find that elusive goal. Cesar produced several good saves and we looked out of ideas. The more minutes that ticked away, you could sense the increasing nervousness in the stands as well as on the pitch. But we kept plugging at it and eventually got our reward. Andrey Arshavin who came in for the substitute Gervinho (on the field for 9 minutes before being stretchered off), dinked in a delightful cross. Giroud got his head on it but Cesar once again parried it. This time though, back into a very dangerous area. Mad scramble ensued and Mikel Arteta popped up to turn the ball in. On replay, it looks offside when Arteta first headed the ball but you won’t find me complaining.
That wasn’t the end of it though. We still required Vito Mannone to earn us the 3 points as somehow we conspired to allow Jamie Mackie to go past 3 players and have a shot on goal. The Italian has come in for a lot of criticism in recent weeks, some very deservedly, but should be allowed to drink in all the plaudits for the late save. We lived on the edge in the final few minutes, despite having the numerical player advantage. We rode our luck but in the end, it was a clean sheet and hopefully the defence will draw some confidence from it.
As I said in the preview yesterday, this match is about getting back on the saddle. 3 points was all that mattered and we got it. It wasn’t champagne football but if there was a graph to categorically classify every game, we are on an upward curve when you compared this game and the last one. Hopefully we’ll continue along the same trajectory and not suffer any dip.
Wasn’t our best by a mile but a win is a win. Well done.