Why Arsenal fans are nervous for the run-in

Posted by Sam Limbert

The glorious football cliche of how teams looked on paper was very evident at Loftus Road on Saturday, as an Arsenal side in a run of good form visited a team that had already been relegated and were part of one of the most abject Premier League games in living memory last weekend. An away win for Arsenal at Queens Park Rangers should have been a foregone conclusion.

After taking the lead inside the first 30 seconds, Arsenal looked all set to go on and comfortably secure the expected victory. Theo Walcott bagged his second goal in as many games, the QPR defence appeared to lack organisation, and the three points were just waiting to be dominantly claimed by the Gunners.

However, as at Fulham two weeks ago, Arsenal proceeded to make extremely heavy work of the 1-0 win. Chances didn't flow, the build-up play wasn't as slick as hoped, and QPR were able to hold Arsenal at arms' length for large parts of the game. If not for some alert goalkeeping from Wojciech Szczesny, the result could have been extremely detrimental in Arsenal's Champions League challenge.

On paper, Arsenal's final two fixtures should bring six points. The penultimate game of the season is on May 14 against Wigan Athletic, who will have just exerted themselves in the FA Cup final three days beforehand and are 17th in the table.

On the last day, Arsenal travel to St James’ Park to play Newcastle United, who are suffering a scary slide toward relegation. Both opponents are languishing in the table, but the game with QPR should prove to Arsenal they can't take the opposition lightly.

I don’t think they took QPR lightly on Saturday; scoring so early showed that the team were serious about their business. However, Arsenal hardly took off Arsene Wenger's hand brake and pushed the accelerator down during the match. Having held back against Fulham recently, the expectation was that Arsenal would push on against QPR and make things a bit more comfortable for supporters to watch, but it never quite materialised at Loftus Road.

That said, it is difficult to moan too much about another three points and a clean sheet at an important stage of the season. The Arsenal back line has been, and still is, a major cause for concern for a lot of supporters, yet is the one area of the team playing extremely well and playing as a unit. In the past four games, Arsenal have conceded only one goal, and that was a penalty against Manchester United.

Szczesny has sharpened up after his spell on the sidelines, while the Per Mertesacker-Laurent Koscielny partnership continues to develop into one of the strongest in the Premier League.

The newfound defensive stability still doesn't make it more bearable to watch when Arsenal are seemingly failing to kill off a game that should be won comfortably. There's always the fear there is a mistake in the team somewhere that could cost the club dearly. The lack of goals is also a concern with just three in four games, but those games have brought eight points, so the Gunners are making do.

If it isn't just their team concerning Arsenal fans, it is the form of others in the fight for the top four that creates worry. Much like Arsenal, Tottenham had to scrap hard to win 1-0 on Saturday, setting them up for their vital game with Chelsea on Wednesday.

Arsenal know that two wins from their final two matches will see them into the top four, but it's impossible to not have a strong interest in the result of the midweek London derby.

Arsenal are doing enough, just. It's not being pessimistic to be worried about the final two fixtures, it’s just some realism from watching Arsenal down the years. Until the Gunners are 4-0 up at St James’ Park on the final day with the top four secured, I doubt most Gooners will be able to relax (and 4-0 at St James’ can be a perilous score line!). As one man in the North Bank at Highbury would regularly say when Arsenal were only winning by one, "Come on Arsenal, give us a cushion!"

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