Despite a thrilling comeback against Liverpool, Queens Park Rangers slid back into the relegation zone with a disappointing performance at Sunderland last week. With time running out and Arsenal coming to Loftus Road, they'll need to reach deep into the well to avoid another disaster this weekend.
With the deck stacked against them, the question looms - can they survive against such tough odds? Certainly the prognosis is grim, between the stiff opposition from which they must take points in the final run-in, and the combination of poor form and appalling discipline the squad have displayed this season.
The opportunity to escape the danger zone still exists, but QPR desperately need to scratch out some points or they will be playing Championship football next year.
Following the shocking win in the late minutes against Liverpool, there was a hope and optimism around the club that the team could indeed escape the drop and string together a few decisions to save their season.
Sunderland quashed those hopes, getting off to a fast start and exploiting the tame QPR defence, which once again left keeper Paddy Kenny vulnerable against too many chances from the home side. The defending has been a sore spot all season for the club, and the prospect of Anton Ferdinand and Nedum Onuoha trying to contain Robin Van Persie on Saturday is cringe-worthy. Parking the bus may not even work, considering how sloppy the back four have been at clearing their lines this season. The best strategy the R's have will be to keep the ball forward and try to run possession for as long as possible. That is a tall order against this Gunner's team, but limiting their opportunities will be a critical task to avoid a serious goal explosion that could further threaten the razor thin goal differential between the relegation candidates.
Hurting that cause will be the absence of Djibril Cisse, who earned a four game ban and the second red card of his brief QPR career with a foolish two-footed tackle on Frazier Campbell. He was a quality signing in the transfer window and a real threat when on the pitch, but his lack of discipline will put the already pitiful offense in an even tougher position against the Gunners. Heidar Helguson is working hard to return from injury, but may not be ready to feature in this match, leaving the door open for Jamie Mackie to play a larger role out front.
The injury shuffle will likely push Joey Barton back into the lineup. Hopefully his absence from the pitch last week will focus the Captain to improve and avoid some of the problems that have marred his season. Despite the repeated complaints about his form, he may be the safer choice over newcomer Samba Diakite, who has shown a penchant for late tackles and bookings that threaten to put QPR down to ten men in every match. He was lucky to avoid a second yellow last week, and is becoming a liability despite some obvious talent. He needs more time at this level to get it right, but the stakes are impossibly high and it is a selection that requires careful consideration by Mark Hughes.
Rangers will face an in-form Arsenal team that has climbed into third place with a seven game winning streak. Without a doubt this is a difficult test and the fun doesn't stop there, with matches against Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City standing between now and the end of the season. With the kind of form the club have shown this season, there is little reason to expect them to suddenly improve to the level of these clubs. That being said, the fans will be there singing loud and proud for their team, and if nothing else, they have to make an effort to avoid getting swept unceremoniously out of the league.
QPR have played their best football against the top clubs this season, and must once again rise to the level of their competition to pull off the impossible.
Come on U R'sss!
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