Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Queens Park Rangers

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, December 31
10:00 a.m. EST, 3:00 p.m. GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Steve Child
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 3 - 0 QPR (December 26, 1995)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 20 Arsenal wins, 14 QPR wins, 14 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-L-W-D
  • QPR's League Form: L-D-L-L-L-D
Apparently, this New Year's Eve, we're celebrating a
return to 2004. Actually, that'd be nice. Photo: Guardian.
I'm not going to say much about Tuesday's game, because it still bothers me quite a bit. Yes, the offense had chances. Yes, they controlled possession for most of the match. Yes, Wayne Hennessey was heroic in goal. But I firmly feel that if you want to be playing Champions League football next year, you can't drop two points at home to Wolves. Disappointing, yes, but you have to move on all the same. There are still more points to be won here.

There are reports floating around that Arsene Wenger will sign 2011 Emirates Cup champion (he's won some other things, too) Thierry Henry to a short-term loan, which has caused much division between supporters. Long story short, this is a problem if this is the only move Wenger makes. If it's a deal in addition to bringing in someone else, then it's not bad at all. If it's the only move that's made, then it's not enough. But, I can't fault it in theory. Just wait and see, there's really no use arguing about it now (that won't stop people, I know.)

It's two quiet London derbies in three days for Arsenal, as they host QPR on Saturday, then travel to Craven Cottage to face Fulham on Monday. That means there'll be plenty of squad rotation, as I mention in the news section, but I have no idea where that rotation may occur, and have no intention of trying to randomly guess. That's for Wenger to decide. What would be nice is six points out of six, especially after leaving two behind on Tuesday.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Sagna (leg), Gibbs (groin), Jenkinson (back), Diaby (hamstring), Wilshere (ankle), Santos (ankle)

RVP needs a hat trick to break Alan Shearer's Premier
League record for goals in a calendar year. My prediction:
seven goals. Guaranteed. Photo: Daily Mail.

Johan Djourou's return was a pleasant surprise, given the dearth of options on the back line right now, but the fact of the matter is all of the team's fullbacks remain out. Bacary Sagna, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs, and Andre Santos are all still on the sidelines, which still means a back four of all center backs moving forward. Sagna is ahead of schedule and training lightly, but Arsene Wenger has said "end of January" as his goal. It's likely the end of January for Gibbs as well, while Santos is out until March. Jenkinson I'm not so sure about (in terms of weeks,) but he's almost certainly not ready yet. I thought that about Djourou before Tuesday, though...

Since Arsenal plays on Saturday and Monday, there is going to be rotation. The options for the back line include: Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Ignasi Miquel, Francis Coquelin, and yes, even Sebastien Squillaci. That's only seven names, so somebody is going to have to play twice, even at maximum rotation.

In the midfield, Arsenal are still without Jack Wilshere (likely a February return) and Abou Diaby. In terms of Diaby, Wenger called his injury "10 days" on November 28. Lord knows when he'll be back. Theo Walcott missed Tuesday's game with a stomach illness, but according to Arsene Wenger on Wednesday, he is feeling better and should be available again.

I know I normally predict a starting XI in this space, but there are so many spots in the squad where there could be rotation in either this match of Fulham away on Monday that it's probably not worth it to just play such a guessing game.

QPR Squad News

Kieron Dyer's season lasted all of seven minutes.
Photo: Guardian.
Out: Dyer (foot)
Doubts: Ferdinand (hamstring), Hulse (knee), Murphy (calf)

QPR's only long term injury is Kieron Dyer, whose season very well might be over. The midfielder made his debut for the team in the season opening match against Bolton Wanderers, but was stretchered off the pitch after just seven minutes and has not featured since. Dyer was close to returning from his foot injury, but he was re-injured in a reserves match against Tottenham Hotspur, and needed surgery. He is likely to be left off Neil Warnock's 25-man squad once the transfer window closes in January, meaning Dyer is not likely to feature for the Hoops again this season.

John Terry's dear friend Anton Ferdinand is a doubt with a hamstring injury. He returned to light training this time last week, but did not make the trip to Wales to face Swansea the day after Boxing Day, and is slated to return, according to Warnock, for the Norwich match on January 2.

QPR have signed 34-year-old striker Heidar Helguson to a new long-term deal, as of yesterday. He has scored seven goals in 12 league games for the Hoops this year. Meanwhile, captain Joey Barton is now a father, after Cassius Joseph Barton was born on Tuesday night (his girlfriend was in labor while he played against Swansea.) You may recall that Cassius was one of the lead conspirators in the assassination Julius Caesar. Do with that information what you will. The Daily Mail mentions that Cassius, in Latin, means "empty, vain, hollow, poor, or robbed." He's actually most likely named after Cassius Clay, as Barton is a big fan of boxing.

Current Form

Here's a photo of Arsenal reject Armand Traore getting
away with what could have been a penalty against
Swansea on Tuesday. Photo: Daily Mail.
The draw with Wolves means it's just three wins from eight matches across all competitions for Arsenal, which came after a stretch of eight wins from nine, and 11 wins from 13. The Gunners have not won back to back games since defeating Norwich City and Borussia Dortmund over a month ago. That Dortmund match also marked the last time Arsenal won consecutive matches at home. Since then, they've drawn Fulham, lost to City in the Carling Cup, beaten Everton, and drawn Wolves at the Emirates. The good news is that Arsenal have only twice this year dropped points in consecutive matches (across all competitions.) Even the season opening three league matches without a win were split apart my Champions League wins over Udinese. That stat bodes well for Arsenal. Arsenal have six point from six against recently promoted sides (Swansea and Norwich) so far this season. Last year, Arsenal only picked up eight points from 18 against sides that had been in the Championship the prior season.

QPR have four wins in the league this season, but surprisingly, three of those wins have come away from home, at Everton, at Wolves, and at Stoke. The win against Stoke was the last time QPR picked up all three points in a league game; it was November 19. Since then, just two draws and four losses. QPR have played the league's top sides well this season. Well, at home, at least. They've beaten Chelsea 1-0 (benefiting from Chelsea playing the second half on nine men) and should have nicked a point from Manchester City before losing 3-2. They've also had some head scratching results, like losing 4-0 to Bolton opening week, then losing 6-0 to Fulham on October 2. Overall, QPR's 18th in the league in terms of home form and 10th in the league on the road.

Match Facts

Arsenal smashed QPR for six in the FA Cup in 2001, and
all I can think about in this photo is how much I hate it
when Arsenal wears their away kit when the opposition
isn't in red. Photo: Arsenal.
In their last ten league meetings, Arsenal has beaten QPR only once, 3-0 at Highbury, on Boxing Day in 1995. Paul Merson had a second half brace after Ian Wright opened the scoring just before halftime. 1995/96 was QPR's last season in the top flight before this year; the Hoops earned a 1-1 draw at Loftus Road in the reverse fixture, when Dennis Bergkamp canceled out Kevin Gallen's opener. Prior to that, QPR won both meetings in 1994/95; QPR's 3-1 win at Highbury that year is their largest ever at Arsenal. That came after both sides had drawn six consecutive league fixtures, four straight of those were goalless.

The most recent meeting between the two sides, however, was a thumping 6-0 Arsenal win in the fourth round of the FA Cup in 2001. Chris Plummer opened the scoring for Arsenal, which was not good news, considering he played for QPR. That came a minute after Arsenal cleared a header from a giraffe on ice skates Peter Crouch off the line. Sylvain Wiltord added the second before another own goal, this time from Matthew Rose, made it 3-0 for the Gunners. Wiltord added his second to make it 4-0 in the second half, before the scoring was extended by Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp.

QPR have only won two league meetings in North London; the most recent was also on New Year's Eve, in 1994. The other was in February of 1984. Arsenal have won 12 of the 20 league meetings at home.

The Referee

Atkinson has sent off four Arsenal players over the last
two years or so. I took this photo from a Bleacher Report
article that asks "who is Arsenal's dirtiest player?"
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson, working his second Arsenal match of the season. The first was Arsenal's 2-0 loss at home to Liverpool back in August. He has shown Arsenal three red cards over this season and last, over seven matches. The first was to Laurent Koscielny for two quick succession yellow cards in the season opener at Anfield, the second was to Jack Wilshere for a reckless challenge against Birmingham City in a win at the Emirates last October, and the third was to Emmanuel Frimpong for two yellows this August (the first yellow was ridiculous for "time wasting" when Frimpong thought a throw-in was his, but at the time, I had the sense that the challenge for which he got the second yellow could have been worthy of a red card and the referee was being somewhat lenient since it would result in a sending off anyway.) The year before last, Atkinson showed Arsenal the only red card they received all year, to Thomas Vermaelen, for a last man foul. Arsenal have not won a match with Atkinson in the middle in three tries: that includes the loss to Liverpool, a Carling Cup semi-final first leg loss at Ipswich last January, and a 3-3 draw at White Hart Lane in April.

For QPR, Atkinson has worked three matches this year; all three were at Loftus Road. QPR's first Premier League match in 16 years had Atkinson as the referee; Bolton won 4-0 and QPR had defender Clint Hill sent off late. In early November, QPR lost 3-2 to Manchester City with Atkinson in the middle, a match where the home side truly deserved a point. In early December, Atkinson took charge of QPR's 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion.

In 21 matches across all competitions, Atkinson has shown 8 red cards this year, more than another other Select Group referee.

Around the League

Liverpool gets a bit of a reprieve regarding fixture congestion by playing tonight instead of over the weekend. It's Friday Night Football on Sky Sports! The Reds host free-falling Newcastle United at Anfield at 2:45 here in New York. In the USA, it's on Fox Soccer Channel.

Sky/ESPN2 (in the U.K./U.S.) carries the early game, as usual, on Saturday morning, as Manchester United welcomes Blackburn Rovers to Old Trafford. Mike Dean is the referee in that one, in case you want to know who to blame if United gets decisions called in their favor again.

Arsenal v. QPR is one of six matches to kick off at 10:00 a.m. on the East Coast; there's no late game on New Year's Eve afterward. The other five include Chelsea hosting Aston Villa at the Bridge, Bolton welcomes Wolves to the Reebok, Norwich hosts Fulham at Carrow Road (Howard Webb works that one,) Stoke hosts Wigan (enthralling...,) and Phil Dowd has the pleasure of working Tottenham's trip to Swansea.

There are two games on Sunday, as West Brom hosts Everton at the Hawthorns (where Stuart Attwell will attempt to not repeat the shocker he had at the Emirates this week) and Sunderland will try to become the second straight team to nick a point from Manchester City, as the Baggies did on Boxing Day.