LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 31: Robin van Persie of Arsenal scores his 35th Premier League goal of the year during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers at the Emirates Stadium on December 31, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Arsenal look to win their 8th straight cup final by defeating a struggling Queens Park Rangers side that is 18th in the league, having lost 2 out of their last 3 games. The game they did win, though, was at Loftus Road, coming from 2 goals down to beat Liverpool 3-2. Incidentally, "inspirational" craptain, Joey Barton, was booed off in that game, and, after a rather fiery message on Twitter, he didn't start their next match, a 3-1 defeat to Nicklas Bendtner's Sunderland. Given how he's been talking to the media about how the QPR players are playing for their career (I'm sure that's exactly what they're doing, Joey. Exactly.), he looks likely to start.
The last time these two teams met, Robin van Persie grabbed his final goal of 2011 after Andrey Arshavin (yes) slipped him in. Arsenal had lots of chances, but missed them, causing some undue pressure at the back. In the end, though, QPR's main problem, creating chances, meant they never really threatened Wojciech Szczesny.
QPR will be missing striker Djbril Cisse, who has scored in every game that he hasn't been sent off it. Unfortunately for QPR, he's been sent off for a straight red card twice, and will now be suspended for 4 games, after already missing 3 games for his first red card. In better news for QPR, Armand Traore will be out another week, with Taye Taiwo likely to continue at left back. He'll have the job of trying to keep Theo Walcott quiet, and while he should win the physical battle, Walcott will likely outpace him. With Walcott in good form, Arsenal's attacking play has been more varied, with Walcott, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna contributing to that. Arsenal will hope that the trio continue their good form, along with Tomas Rosicky, who should start again in the middle.
On the left, one of 4 players could start. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hasn't started since the home match against Newcastle, a game that he was rather quiet in. Since then, Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey have started on the left hand side, while Yossi Benayoun is also a contender. With Barton and Gervinho having previous, and Oxlade-Chamberlain seemingly not likely to start, either Benayoun or Ramsey should get the nod. The Welshman has been energetic on the left side, but perhaps a little narrow. With Benayoun fully recovered from a hamstring/flu problem, he's the likely starter. The back 5 writes itself, with Wojciech Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen and Gibbs settling into a very good partnership. The Arsenal back 4 had problems against then-Fulham striker Bobby Zamora in January, but with a fully fit back 4, they should be better equipped to deal with him. In the absence of Cisse, Zamora's likely partner will be either top-scorer Heidar Helgusson, once again fit, or Jamie Mackie. In the midfield, the combative pair of Shaun Derry and Samba Diakite will look to protect QPR's rather fragile back 4.
Predicted lineup (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Song, Arteta; Walcott, Rosicky, Benayoun; van Persie
Prediction: Joey Barton tries punching Robin van Persie during handshakes, but the Dutchman turns it into a deathgrip, forcing Barton to get treatment before kick off. When he returns, Vermaelen smashes the ball into his face, which deflects the ball into the goal. Robin van Persie returns to the scoresheet, while Gervinho adds a third after nut megging the dazed Barton. QPR get a consolation goal when Adel Taarabt fires in an unstoppable long shot for 30 yards after jinking past Barton and Alex Song in the same move (Barton tried tackling him: SEE TRICKY PLAYER ATTACK is his modus operandi).