A 7-game struggle awaits Arsenal

QPR 2-1 Arsenal

Like most Arsenal fans, I expect, I wasn’t naïve enough to anticipate a serene run of victories that would enable us to sail through to the end of the season unhindered. I expected a blip, but I didn’t really expect that blip yesterday. Maybe the players didn’t, either, and therein lies the rub.

It’s not easy to sound authoritative about a game based solely on Match of the Day highlights, so I won’t even try. From what I can glean, defensively it looked like a bad day at the office, with the usually towering Vermaelen in particular having one to forget. Hats off to QPR of course for taking the game to Arsenal – I’m sure that this morning that nobody at Arsenal will need reminding (or re-reminding, ha) that relegation-threatened sides are often like wounded animals. Underestimate them at your peril.

Wenger was pretty honest about our defeat – he’s been doing this a lot this season after we lose, and losing is something we have now done nine times.

“What we produced on the day was not good enough… subconsciously something was missing today. If you miss something on the commitment front you are beaten. That is what happened today”.

So he admitted that we simply weren’t as committed as we should have been, a bit complacent, which kind of makes me want to bash my head against a wall. If there’s one thing he’s been preaching – as have the players – it’s the need to not let the foot off the gas, take each game at a time and blah blah blah.

Of course, winning seven consecutive games is special, and maybe that focus and tempo simply gets harder and harder to maintain. And like I said, it’s not realistic to expect us to turn up and snaffle each and every three points.

Ramsey as a winger was a mysterious move, given we have two much more suitable options there in the shape of Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain. As much as I cannot fathom that, I doubt that was what lost us the game. We just weren’t at the races enough.

It’s a jolt back to reality and a reminder that a top-four finish is going to be a proper slog. A reminder too that for all the invention and spirit shown since February, this Arsenal side is not good enough to turn up and bully teams when not playing at 100%. If Spurs win today – and they will not lack for motivation now – the difference between us returns to being razor-thin. Chelsea are only five points behind. Frankly, with seven games left, third place remains anyone’s to win and lose.

Next up, Manchester City.

Arsenal take strength from Ramsey’s agony

Stoke City 1-3 Arsenal

Fortunately for anyone who watches football, the sight of a player screaming in agony with his leg snapped and at the wrong angle is a rarity. I can remember it happening four of five times in all my years watching football. When it happened to Eduardo in 2008, it was too horrible to look at. So yesterday, for it to happen again to Aaron Ramsey was sickening in the extreme, and it has overshadowed everything. I was thinking about it all last night and I’m still thinking about it this morning.

We don’t know how bad it was, or how complicated it will be to heal, but you don’t need to see something like that in any great detail to know he will surely be out of action for a year. It’s doubly depressing to see as he just coming of age for Arsenal. He’s a magnificent little player.

The sad truth is he might find it hard to come back at all. If you look at the list of those who have suffered similar injuries in English football, a fair few had to retire not long after. We can but hope that Ramsey’s leg will heal and he will pick his career up where he left off. I feel desperately sorry for him.

Look at Diaby and Eduardo though, both of whom suffered similar injuries, and you will see two players still ping-ponging between the pitch and the treatment table. It’s a long road back.

I don’t doubt that Ryan Shawcross is a decent lad and meant no malice. The look on his face as he left the pitch tells you as much. But he broke a player’s leg. The tackle was a shocking one, a wild lunge, and three matches out seems absurdly lenient when you consider what Ramsey now faces. To cap it all off, he was called up for England. That was a bad call from a PR perspective if you ask me.

As Wenger and Fabregas both said post-match, for it to happen three times in five years to Arsenal players feels more than mere coincidence. There might be no malice involved, but for years we have been told the way to play Arsenal is to rough them up a bit, to knock them out their stride, and you know what, it’s worked too at times. But perhaps this is the result of that; occasionally, inevitably, there’ll be a badly timed tackle that does something like this.

Fabregas called for more protection but it’s hard to know what can be done against individual acts of stupidity, other than in retrospect. Yesterday, for example, was a rough-and-tumble physical scrap – one in which Arsenal showed magnificent commitment – marred by one dreadful tackle. That’s the way some teams play football; they play to their strengths just as Arsenal play to theirs. It’s hard to legislate against an individual player’s wild, late tackle other than to punish the player himself more harshly once it has happened. The punishment needs to fit the crime. At the moment, it doesn’t at all. Not remotely.

Onto the game. I thought it was a magnificent Arsenal fightback. OK, so our collective defensive amnesia saw us let in yet another goal in from a throw-in, but we matched Stoke’s commitment and showed a fantastic spirit overall.

I was particularly impressed with the way we recovered after Ramsey’s injury. For ten minutes the team was shell-shocked but we drove forward and you could tell what those two late goals meant to the players. The fist-pumping release of emotion after the Verm’s third goal made me proud. I was doing the same thing myself.

Maybe, just maybe, this team came of age yesterday. Fabregas captained the team majectically, scoring one, setting up two, and to see Vermaelen and Campbell roaring at the crowd tells you all you need to know. Anyone doubting the merit of having big Sol yet? He was fantastic. Clichy looked like a man possessed, a completely different player to the error-riddled Clichy of recent times. Alex Song was exceptional.

Three points off the top, with a collective spirit and a will to win forged by Ramsey’s leg break and a decent run-in.

We’re back in this, make no mistake.