Pre-Match Report

Premier League: QPR v Arsenal - Match Preview

By Richard Clarke

It says everything about Arsenal's current momentum that the pursuit of second-place Manchester City is still considered plausible by some.

Roberto Mancini's side are in thick of the title race just three points adrift of their cross-town rivals and so bridging the gap would involve catching up 12 points within the span of the 24 that remain this season.

That is why Arsène Wenger dismissed the idea at his pre-match press conference on Friday. The Arsenal manager is well aware he has only a slender three-point advantage over fourth-place Tottenham. After a rollercoaster season, retaining possession of their current prize will be enough for the Frenchman.

The gap to Chelsea and Newcastle, in fifth and sixth place respectively, is just eight points. So, on the face of it, the Manchester City question seems strange.

But it is borne out of the fact that momentum is everything at this stage of the campaign. Arsenal have assumed their current comfortable position with a run of seven straight Premier League wins, meanwhile Chelsea and Tottenham have stalled and spluttered. Manchester City, so the theory goes, may be starting to show similar signs.

But let's be realistic. Six weeks ago, fourth was enough for Arsenal. Now only third will do. Second, although lovely, is not worth the thinking time.

As those trendy London T-shirts scream, let's just all "Mind the Gap".

Or at least "Keep calm and carry on" for now.

"Finishing third is massive," said Wenger ahead of the trip to QPR. "It matters to us to finish as high as possible. But we are far from Man City in fairness, about 12 points, and that's very far in only eight games.

"We've set a target more linked with our consistency. We feel we are in a fight with Tottenham, Chelsea, even Newcastle are still there. And third is better than fourth.

"We have been on our run because we have confidence, because we have our players back and because we are playing the football we want to play. Those are basically the ingredients you want.

"We won a few games in the last minute and the little things that sometimes go against you in the season went for us. But overall we had always a strong attitude and if you look at our results since October, we have had consistency - apart from in January when we lost three games.

"That was a bad period but, apart from that, the attitude and the consistency has been quite good."

Right now "quite good" is a serious understatement of Arsenal form. An eighth straight win at Loftus Road on Saturday would be the Club's best run in the top flight since the time of "Invincibles" and bettered only five times in their 125-year history.

Last Saturday's 3-0 win over Aston Villa saw their 17th different player hit the net in the Premier League this season meanwhile, at the other end, the defence has gone 256 minutes without conceding.

A fact that will be helped by the return of centre back Laurent Koscielny, who hurt his knee in the warm-up last weekend.

QPR's only victory in the last two months came in that dramatic 3-2 turnaround against Liverpool. It is a run that has seen them drop into the relegation places. Mark Hughes replaced Neil Warnock soon after the 1-0 defeat at Emirates Stadium around Christmas time. Money was spent in January but the west London side seem to have been hit by a third quarter slide that seems to affect so many promoted sides. However Wenger feels their position is salvageable.

"I must say that QPR had a good team when we played them at the Emirates and we won 1-0," he said. "But it was a very difficult game so we have been warned.

"I believe that you will see the influence of Mark Hughes more next season because he will choose his players and they will need time. At the moment he is focused more on saving QPR than dictating his style of play.

"They can still get out of it. They have very difficult fixtures but I think they can still do it. As long as it's mathematically possible you still fight.

"You saw what they were capable of against a side like Liverpool after being 2-0 down. We know what is at stake of course and we expect QPR to fight. But I believe our attitude will be more important, we know that every game for us now is a real big one. We want to continue as we are doing at the moment."

Djibril Cisse is suspended after his red card last week but strike partner Bobby Zamora should start. He is a player who has hurt Arsenal in the past.

"Zamora has always shown great quality against us whether he was at Fulham or West Ham," said Wenger.

"He is certainly one of the key problems we have to keep quiet because he is good in the air, good on the ground and good at holding the ball up front. So the most important thing for us is to have the ball and not to let him have it.

"But anyway we know QPR are a side with quality players and are in a difficult situation. I expect them to fight not to go down. However the key will be on our side, no matter what QPR's quality or problem is. It will be important for us to go out and show how much we want another win."

Right now, given Arsenal's momentum, you can't see any other result.

Team news

Arsenal: Coquelin (hamstring), Mertesacker (ankle), Wilshere (ankle), Frimpong (knee).

QPR: Campbell (doubt - hamstring), Hall (doubt - knock), Helguson (doubt - groin), Cisse (suspended), Traore (hamstring), Dyer (foot), Faurlin (knee).

Random Facts

Arsenal's last top-flight win at QPR was a 3-1 success on November 24, 1990.

However Arsenal's last game against QPR at Loftus Road was a 6-0 win in the FA Cup in January 2001.

Arsenal benefitted from two own goals that day. This season, no opposition player has scored for Wenger's side.

QPR have had six red cards this season - the most in the top flight

QPR have conceded only 13 per cent of their goals in the final 15 minutes of their games. The lowest in the top flight this season.

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