(NB: Thanks to a somewhat hectic holiday schedule, I am writing this preview early - like December 26 early - so if anything seems out of date because I forgot to update it prior to posting, please let me know and I will happily fix it and provide a prompt, prorated refund of your subscription price. That's the kind of customer service that sets The Short Fuse apart, people.)
Queens Park Rangers, who often go by the jaunty, devil-may-care nickname "QPR" when among friends, make their first ever visit to the Emirates for a New Year's Eve game against Arsenal. This is QPR's first season in the Premier League since 1995-96, and despite a remarkably consistent yet ultimately unhelpful one-goal-a-game average, they're actually doing not as terribly in the league overall as you might expect and are above the relegation places, albeit just barely, thanks to a recent run of two points gained in their last five matches.
What do we know about QPR? And by 'we', I mean what do I know about QPR? Short answer...not much. They have lovely blue hooped kits, they play in West London, and rock and roll luminaries from Mick Jones to Glen Matlock to Gerard Cosloy count themselves as fans, as did the legendary and awesome Eddie Hitler. But other than that I gotta do some research. Please hold.
OK, I'm back. QPR typically play a 4-2-3-1, so it says, but they have lately reverted to a more traditional 4-4-2 in an attempt to stop the aforementioned bleeding. Either way, Heidar Helguson is QPR's main threat up front, and is on a bit of a roll right now with five goals in his last six appearances as of this writing and seven on the season. As mentioned above, QPR aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut, so they look to the rest of the team to tighten things up and give the forwards time to do something. Which, if we're honest, isn't really working out all that well. QPR have a pretty wobbly midfield, led by Joey Barton (and yes, before you ask, I'm glad Arsenal didn't go get him - not because he's Joey Barton, but mostly because he doesn't appear to be all that good any more), and a defense that has conceded 32 goals, the fourth-most in the Premier League.
Coming off the back of Tuesday's lovely draw, Arsenal are carrying a healthy enough squad - so far during this congested stretch of the schedule, Arsenal haven't lost any players (knock wood) even though Wenger has suggested that Robin van Persie might not play every game in this end-of-year hectic period out of concern for his health. This might mean RvP won't play against QPR, since he played a pretty big part in the games leading up to QPR. Having watched Wenger over the years risk players' health for relatively meaningless points, though, I would be surprised if van Persie was rested after Tuesday's result. SURPRISE ME, ARSENE!
So yeah, on paper, this is a game that Arsenal should steamroll. But this is Arsenal, and for several years now you and me both know that Arsenal tend to make heavy work of games they should walk through. Remember Tuesday? Tuesday sucked, two points lost in a game they should have won. Way to ruin Christmas.
But it's still the holiday season, and I'm feeling optimistic, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say Good Arsenal will show up for this game and it will be a nice tidy win and three more points to close out a 2011 that started great (Arsenal were comfortably in third place on 1/1/11), and ended great (Arsenal are mostly playing more like Arsenal) but the months in between were, to put it mildly, interesting.
May 2012 bring Arsenal less CLUB IN CRISIS and more points in bunches of three. Happy new year, y'all.
GENERIC MOTIVATIONAL SPORTS SLOGAN!