Reaction: Fulham (A)

Celebrating the only thing that mattered in the end.

Celebrating the only thing that mattered in the end.

Arsenal fans will be grateful for the 3 points. It was a terrible performance in which the team decided to completely shut off in the final 15 minutes. Before that, the Gunners did very little to penetrate a packed Fulham defence. Fulham played with 10 man for over 78 minutes having Sidwell sent off in the 12th minute of normal game time. Nevertheless, the upshot is a temporal third place after a barely deserved 3 points.

 

 

A Bright Start

Wenger played his best possible side. Theo continued in place of Gervinho while Rosicky came in for Wilshere. The final switch was to have Monreal in for Gibbs which was probably tied to better understanding between Monreal and Cazorla for the left flank. While the Gibbs – Podolski partnership blossomed early in the season, injury to the later has seen Gibbs not linking too well with either Gervinho or Cazorla.

The fans knew it was going to be a tough game. Our record against Fulham is poor and we have been winless for quite a while especially at Craven Cottage. That said, it was interesting to observe how the team would push themselves on since this is marks the final five games of the season.

 

Fulham had their hands full keeping two banks of four in defence and ensuring that Rosicky and Cazorla did not enjoy space in the middle channel.

 

Arsenal took the game to Fulham from the start. It was a bright opening with the Gunners prodding forward and Walcott hitting the back of the net as early as the 2nd minute only to be rightly ruled as offside. Fulham had their hands full keeping two banks of four in defence and ensuring that Rosicky and Cazorla did not enjoy space in the middle channel.

The Cottagers were reduced to 10 man in the 12th minute as Sidwell made a stupid late challenge on Arteta. He slid in studs up catching Arteta near the ankle. While that is a red cardable offence, some Arsenal fans felt it was a bit harsh on Fulham considering how early it was in the game. Nevertheless, most applauded the referee for putting his feet down firmly on overly physical challenges, something that we wished we had against Everton at home in midweek.

With such a bright start and decisions going our way, we thought we could use this game to extend our goal difference advantage. Arsenal poured forward with no result. Sagna and Monreal were having trouble pushing their crosses past the first man. Poor crosses are not new for Arsenal and Giroud was having trouble deciding whether to hang back to help build up play or break forward to get on the end of a cross.

Giroud had the best chance in the first half when he surged past a defender and decided to go for it even though he was not in a good position. His swerving shot flew past the keeper but hit the post. Unlucky. I wish he would go for goal more often. The number of times he attempts to cut the ball back or attempt a flick to a teammate has been rather unproductive mostly because he doesn’t have a second striker in the box. Also, Rosicky, Cazorla and Theo did not make runs when needed.

With the elusive final pass missing, Fulham gathered courage and made a number of effective counter attacks. At one point in the match, it did feel as if Fulham was creating better chances than the multiple failed attempts from Arsenal. It was frustrating to see such inefficiency  in our slow build up play.

The BFG nets his third of the season.

The BFG nets his third of the season.

With the first half drawing to an end, Arsenal were awarded a freekick at the edge of the box. Theo whipped a good free kick that Koscielny met firmly to head across goal. Mertesacker connected to finish it into an empty net. It was the third goal of the season for the BFG and all three of his goals have come in London derbies.

 

 

Second Half

The second half started with some comedy down the goal line as Arsene Wenger emerged late from the dressing room and was trying to stay off the pitch as he made his way to the bench. Arsenal chased for the second goal but nothing was working. Rosicky had to drop deep as Fulham piled bodies into the center. Cazorla dropped deeper into the middle to support Rosicky which left Monreal to man the left flank. Monreal had a poor game offensively and defensively. Theo disappeared from the match not reading play well and failing to link up as a wide man. Giroud was left isolated upfront and his best contribution was defending corners. Any foray into Fulham’s third almost always resulted in a lost ball that Fulham easily collected. We started to pass sideways and then backwards. There were some neat triangular play going on but none of that was productive. At times, it felt as if the team was having a training session in ball retention.

 

Any foray into Fulham’s third almost always resulted in a lost ball that Fulham easily collected. We started to pass sideways and then backwards.

 

Arsenal played too safe and Fulham grew in confidence. With the Gunners afraid to put in a strong tackle, Fulham ran rampant in the last 15 minutes. Nearly every 50-50 challenge was lost as Fulham powered forward with nothing to lose. Crosses were whipped in and corners were won. Fulham looked very likely to score. Koscielny, Mertesacker and Szczesny played well to keep the Cottagers at bay.

The referee at this point began to show some bias to the home team. A free kick was called and Arteta shown a yellow when a Fulham player tripped himself. Worse still, Giroud was sent off with a straight red after fumbling over a late challenge. Frankly, I think it was at best a yellow. Giroud won the ball and had his studs firmly planted on the ball / field. The Fulham player tripped over his boot and the red was shown. The referee might have read that as a stamp. I think Arsenal will appeal the red card but if it is not rescinded, Giroud will be out till the final match of the season. You can view both red card events below and decide for yourself. (Credit: Arsenalist)

The game ended with a final corner kick for Fulham. Fans had their hearts in their mouths as the corner was headed away and a follow up cross was cleared. A quick counter attack ensued which saw Ramsey firing wide in a good position.

The win was scrappy and in truth, Arsenal did not play like they had a man advantage. They did not play like a team that was hungry to finish as high up the table as they could. Wenger mentioned psychological factors, insisting that his team was trying to make 3 points safe rather than push all out for a win. There may be some truth in that but the manner in which Fulham ran right through our midfield and our inability to string passes together in the second half was a worrying watch.

 

 

Positives

Theo’s set pieces have improved. He took a few free kicks today and most of his deliveries were good. One of them resulted in our goal. While he did disappear for most of the second half and was rightly substituted, we finally managed to make use of a set piece and that won us the match.

 

There was no instance in which Fulham managed to win an aerial duel in the box.

 

Our center backs did well too. Besides combining to give us the lead, they kept us in the game in the second half. Our midfield and full backs did little to protect our lead. Per and Kosc made multiple clearances and dominated the air. There was no instance in which Fulham managed to win an aerial duel in the box.

Szczesny remained sharp and deserved his second clean sheet after returning to the side. His usual ‘switch off’ attitude did not occur and maybe Wenger was right to drop the young Pole to wake him up. He made a fingertip save amongst others and had an error free match.

 

 

Negatives

With Giroud possibly out for three games, one wonders what we will do upfront. Podolski is favourite to lead the line but the German has shown that he is unable to finish a full 90 mins. Having Poldi or Theo upfront will mean we revert to more of a false 9 approach. This is the more natural Arsenal way but it remains to be seen if the team can switch tactics so late in the season.

Giroud's aerial presence will be missed.

Giroud’s aerial presence will be missed.

To be frank, I’m not sure if that is a bad thing. Giroud is a natural line leader but the manner we utilize his abilities is so flawed that he is contributing more in defense than attack. Our crosses are poor, our second strikers do not pick up his knock downs and they do not make runs into the box. Maybe this will work out in the end but losing a physically strong player for 3 games can turn out to be a severe blow.

 

 

Three points is three points

At this stage of the season, every point counts. It is a pity that we played so poorly and I am not sure if confidence is high going into the final four matches. Chelsea and Tottenham have difficult ties tomorrow. One can only hope that some points will be dropped. Adding to that, they have yet to play each other which will mean a guaranteed minimum net loss of 3 points between them.

We have gone on a good streak since winning at Munich. 5 wins and a draw has propelled us up the table. Buck up Arsenal, we’ve been lucky in the last 3 matches.

 

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