It’s a good job that results are the be-all and end-all at this stage of the season because there’s nothing positive to come out of today’s match other than the three points.
That’s not to underestimate their value of course — far from it. Most Gooners would happily take a win but no plaudits than be in Fulham’s position of getting nothing from a valiant and praiseworthy performance. It just doesn’t bode well for the remaining four fixtures that Arsenal could only scrape a lucky victory against 10 men who had nothing to play for.
You never know what type of Arsenal performance you’re going to get these days until the five minute mark. Will it be the frustrating, casual Arsenal who Everton ran rings around for the first half on Tuesday and which Norwich contained comfortably for 85 minutes? Or will it be the focused, motivated Arsenal that ruthlessly battered West Brom and Reading in the games before?
It was the latter thankfully as Wenger’s men set about Fulham from the off, pressing high up the pitch and seemingly determined to get off to a better start than their last two matches. The stream I was watching flashed up an incredible statistic after eight minutes of play which showed that Arsenal had 91% possession so far! So we were in total control when Sidwell launched into a stupid tackle on Arteta and was rightly sent off. 12 minutes gone, Fulham had been chasing shadows and would now have to do it with ten men. “This game is won,” I thought to myself.
Unfortunately, so too did the Arsenal players.
They eased up and played the rest of the game at a comparative stroll, just waiting for the inevitable victory to materialise. Meanwhile the red card had focused Fulham and they were now snapping into tackles and looking sharp on the counter. Although Arsenal scored moments before the break from a set piece, it had been Szczesny who’d been the busier keeper as Fulham’s frequent breakways resulted in chances, most notably for Berbatov and the lively Kacaniklic.
The centre backs show the front men how it should be done
Giroud had clipped the post with a snap-shot, but although Arsenal continued to dominate possession they didn’t really open Fulham up and were slightly fortunate to be ahead at the break.
The second half was even more uninspiring from an Arsenal point of view as the killer second goal never arrived. In fact it never even looked likely as the game meandered aimlessly towards its conclusion. In the 77th minute Wenger must have had a fright when Kieran Richardson’s free kick was parried to the feet of Manolev, who tucked it in and wheeled away in celebration. The offside flag would’ve settled the manager’s heart rate.
As the 90th minute ticked around Giroud gave the ref an opportunity to level up the card count when he lunged into a challenge and caught his man halfway up the shin. It wasn’t as bad as Sidwell’s foul but it was over the ball and so merited a red card.
An unlikely point was now a real possibility for Fulham and they went for it in the three minutes of added time.
As they won a corner we had the ludicrous sight of a frantic Wenger trying to scramble Vermaelen onto the pitch to protect our slender lead against a mid-table side who’d been playing with 10 men for the last 80 minutes. How had it come to this?!
As it was only a desperate interception from Koscielny prevented Berbatov hooking home the equaliser from six yards out and what should’ve been a comfortable three points were belatedly — and a touch fortunately — in the bag.
The sad truth is that with Wilshere on the bench and Cazorla on the periphery of things (was he fully fit?) we lacked imagination. We weren’t zipping passes around and Fulham (like Norwich last week) kept us at bay quite comfortably. To compound matters we were easily picked off on the counter and looked especially edgy in the second half.
As I said in the opening paragraph though, we won and that’s the main thing. It puts enormous pressure on Spurs ahead of a tough match for them against Man City tomorrow and it’s looking like we’ll somehow stumble over the line and into the Champions League. We’re favourites with the bookies because of our easier run-in and because Chelsea and Spurs still have to play each other. Currently we are 1/3 to finish in the top four, Chelsea are 1/4 and Spurs are evens (for more odds click here).
It’s not always been pretty, but five league wins and a draw since the White Hart Lane debacle is a great achievement considering the morale level and you have to hand it to Wenger for turning around what was a calamitous situation. We’ll need to play better than today to finish the job though.
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