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May 3, 2013

QPR won't be another Portsmouth

A disastrous season for QPR reached rock bottom last Sunday when a draw with Reading confirmed they are heading back down to the Championship. I'll hold my hands up, I never for a moment saw them as relegation candidates last August. All that money Mark Hughes spent on a number of exciting players with real quality; it seemed they'd be safe at the very least and probably pushing up towards mid-table.

However, a 5-0 thrashing at home to Swansea on the opening day was a sign of things to come. Even after Harry Redknapp took over, I was convinced QPR would stay up. With Harry's experience and the even better quality players like Chris Samba and Loic Remy who he brought in, it seemed the great escape was on. But he just couldn't get them to click and it's just underlined that you can't buy your way to success. I thought Harry would have at least made a good fist of keeping them up and they might have gone down on goal difference or by a point or two - not in such disappointing fashion. Even a manager with his reputation couldn't pull it off because of the problems within the squad were massive - the right ingredients have to be there to fight for survival and there needs to be dressing-room harmony, which Harry has basically admitted was missing.

It's a classic example of a team getting up with a spirit and then saying to those players, "right, we're in the Premier League now, thanks for all your help but we're going to get some new lads in". There's talk of the spirit not being good and you can believe that as the players who got them up were watching guys come in on a lot more money than them. The huge influx of players - inevitable when you have three different managers in just over a year - was a major reason for their relegation, but there have also been injuries at key times.

Even still, there are no QPR players who have come out of 2012-13 with any credit. I think Remy is probably the pick of them and having scored goals for a QPR team struggling at the wrong end of the table, there will be managers who will feel that in a better side, with a bit more confidence, he can be a really good addition and a prolific Premier League scorer. I don't imagine he will stay with QPR but you never know in football. For other players like Junior Hoilett and Adel Taarabt, the Championship may just provide a better platform for their talents. Taarabt almost single-handedly got them promoted a couple of years ago but struggles to get the same stranglehold on the game in the top flight. He could realistically be a key player for them next season in that division, though. You think of Samba in that division and he should be a really dominant presence, and then there's Joey Barton. Will he come back? Now that's a whole other can of worms completely.

It's such a shame for the QPR fans because on paper it's unquestionably one of the best squads they've had in years. You have to feel sorry for the owner Tony Fernandes too because he has really put his money where his mouth is but just not been rewarded at all. The fact that he's promised to stick by the club is huge for the future of QPR, if he continues to bankroll them there should be real hope that they can bounce back up. QPR won't be another Portsmouth or Leeds, because Tony Fernandes has made it absolutely clear that he is 100% committed to the football club.

Fernandes has said Harry will be there next season and I expect that to be the case. I think Harry will want the chance to put his own stamp on things as he hasn't had enough time to do that, and he'll relish the challenge of trying to get a team up. It's a tough old division though, completely unpredictable. QPR will have bad days and get beaten somewhere 4-0 but then go and win 6-0 the next week . That's life in the Championship. I've managed in the division twice and fetched clubs up out of it twice - it is a long slog. It's full of teams who perform one week and the next week you think 'what the hell has happened to them?' You look at teams like Leicester City and Middlesbrough, who looked certain to make the play-offs but then tailed off completely. Then there's Bolton, who were close to the relegation places and are now in the play-offs. It's full of surprises and to be honest it's probably been more exciting than the Premier League.

The biggest warning to QPR comes from Wolves, who look like they are going to suffer a second successive relegation. Wolves hired a manager who had no experience of the English game, whereas Harry is obviously a seasoned veteran. I just hope he gets them back up. I think they are a club made for Premier League football.

If you want to bounce straight back, you've got to keep your top players - that's what Newcastle United and West Ham have done in recent seasons. But if you're paying massive wages in that division, you have to get up first time. It's a big gamble but if Harry stays and he wants Fernandes to gamble with a big transfer kitty, he will.

The pressure is off this Saturday when QPR welcome Arsenal to Loftus Road. Those players will probably be more dangerous now that they are down as they can relax and try to prove to the fans that they can actually remember how to play this game properly. I expect them to make a good fist of it against an Arsenal side with the pressure very much on as they chase Champions League football.

It's been a great few weeks for the Gunners, who have really been flying since they lost the north London derby to Tottenham in March. Most people wrote them off after that result but they've racked up five wins and two draws and now you wouldn't bet against them finishing in the top four. The championship and runners-up spot has been over for three months really, but the battle for those last two Champions League spots has been interesting. It's made more interesting by the fact it's a London battle - the rivalry between the three clubs is intense. It's really up for grabs now and should be an exciting finish.

Arsenal's fine form has been in no small part down to Santi Cazorla, who has been their outstanding player of the season. He's a player I love to watch and he's filled the huge void that was left by Cesc Fabregas and then Samir Nasri leaving. He's been ably assisted by the likes of Theo Walcott and Mikel Arteta. It seems to be that the jury is still out on Theo, but it's time for him to recognise that he is in this Arsenal team on merit and deserves to be there. Arteta has really flourished this season, too - his experience and ability to read the game has seen him become a key player. I remember thinking he slowed Arsenal down when he first came to the club, but he's really taken to that deep-lying midfield role. He's a clever player and having played in a more attacking role for Everton, it'll probably advance his career another two or three years dropping back in the way he has.

This Arsenal side are in excellent form and although QPR can play without constraint, I'll be amazed if Arsene Wenger's side don't claim the three points. It won't be easy but with all Arsenal have to play for, it's an away banker.

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