This game wasn’t lost in the final 10 minutes, it was lost at half time. I don’t know what was said in the away dressing room during the interval, but Arsenal had a much more cautious approach for the second half that invited pressure from Fulham. Whether that was subconscious on the part of the players or a direct tactic from the management, we’ll probably never know, but what is indisputable is that our game dropped off dramatically.
Fulham cranked up the pressure and we seemed to lose all interest in trying to score any more goals, instead making sure we had men behind the ball and concentrating mainly on keeping them out. As such we completely lost the fluency and tempo we had before the break and failed to carve out a single chance.
So why not carry on playing the way we did in the first half? We had created plenty of opportunities and Fulham were second best. But instead we conceded the bulk of the possession and slowly but surely allowed the hosts to get back into it.
Fulham ended up with 54% possession. Who could have seen that after a first half which we bossed? It’s a stat that shows just how much we retreated in the second half. Naturally Wenger blamed tiredness and it’s true we’ve just played three games over the hectic Christmas period. But so have Fulham — how come they didn’t look tired?
All this should’ve been a moot point as we should have been out of sight by half time. Early on the erratic Gervinho sidefooted high and wide from inside the six yard box before he was blatantly tripped in the area and referee Lee Probert — who had a mare — waved play on. We continued to dominate and were rewarded when Koscielny headed in Ramsey’s deflected cross before Stockdale made an excellent double-save from Ramsey and Song as we looked for the killer second.
This was much better than against Wolves, when we took the lead and didn’t push hard enough for the second. Here, we were really trying to get another and it was good to see we seemed to have learned our lesson.
Unfortunately for us, our finishing was woeful. I made the point after the QPR game about how only van Persie looks like scoring and today was no different. Walcott has regressed into the shy teenager we first saw all those years ago. He is a confidence player and at the moment he has none, so is completely ineffective. He wasted many good positions with a poor final ball and too often it looked like he just wanted to get rid of it. When will Oxlade-Chamberlain get his chance?
Zamora breaks Arsenal hearts
Gervinho also wasted possession with poor decision making, but at least he offers more than Theo at the moment. His finishing — like Walcott’s — is not up to standard, but his dribbling and quick feet make him a threat and he should’ve been awarded that early penalty.
The halftime whistle brought relief for Fulham who, like a boxer on the ropes, looked moments away from being dealt a knockout punch. I was quite relaxed at halftime, thinking that if we carried playing as well as that the second killer goal would come.
But we didn’t carry on playing like that and it soon became clear Fulham had the initiative. We were completely absent as an attacking force, barely launching any counter-attacks, and the hosts were getting closer and closer to scoring when Probert finally made the job easy for them. Zamora went to ground far too easily under a challenge from Djourou and the ref flashed his red card. There was minimal contact (certainly far, far less than on Gervinho for the penalty he failed to award) and it seemed a real homer decision.
Fulham wasted no time in making their advantage count when Sidwell headed in a scrambled effort after Szczesny once again looked uncertain dealing with a high ball. Then Squillaci failed to clear properly in injury time and Zamora lashed home to give them an undeserved and very preventable victory.
People will point to the red card as changing the game, but by then Fulham could well have been 3-1 up anyway. That equaliser was coming. First Szczesny misjudged a free kick and was in no man’s land when Senderos nodded just wide, before Dempsey headed inches past the post when he should’ve scored. Then Szczesny brilliantly blocked a Ruiz shot as Fulham worked up the head of steam that eventually got them all three points.
So we fail to apply any pressure on Spurs who now have three home matches in a row. Our stay in the top four has been all too brief and there is much work to be done if we’re to end up there in May.
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