The winning run came to an end. It was two points dropped on a day where Manchester United drew with Newcastle, where a win would allowed us to close the gap to these two team at the least. Sluggish is perhaps the best term to describe our performance last night.
Laurent Koscielny and Gervinho was rested from the starting line-up with Johan Djourou and Andrey Arshavin took their places respectively. That was the only change from the team that played on Wednesday night. Fixtures arrangement would normally have us play on Sunday after a Wednesday game but we can’t blame it all on that.
We defended brilliantly and kept Fulham at bay. The only time they managed to get through, they scored. John Arne Riise’s overlap caused confusion and unfortunately Thomas Vermaelen’s clearance went straight past Wojciech Szczesny for an own goal. Even then, we had bodies in defence. Theo Walcott tracked Riise’s run and the fault can’t be lay on him. Arsene Wenger said that left footed player sometimes detest using their right foot and that cost us.
The goal sparked us to life and attacking substitutions were made. That it took conceding a goal to create a sense of urgency in the team was disheartening. All of a sudden, we were just that little bit quicker on the ball and desire it more. The pressuring off the ball was almost none existence on our part up until that point.
To the team’s credit though that we managed to find the equaliser. Walcott providing the sumptuous cross for Vermaelen to redeem himself. There were chances before and after to add to the score but combination of scuffed shots and Fulham clearance on the line prevented it from happening. Robin Van Persie had a couple of mazy runs inside the penalty box and was denied once by Chris Baird on the line and skied his other shot.
Arshavin was again a shadow of himself and was largely anonymous. If he doesn’t pick up his form soon, there’s a big chance that his services in the near future might not be required any longer. On a night where he was given a chance to show that he’s still a force to be reckoned with, the opportunity was lost. He afforded Andre Santos little protection at the back and found little going forward.
On the other side of the coin, the arrival of Gervinho into the game (not exactly in Arshavin’s stead) and into the left wing position turned the game on it’s head. The Ivorian was far more direct and his pacy runs caused a lot of problem to Fulham’s right defence. On a night when the comparison is so marked between the two, you have to fear for Arshavin’s future.
Over the course of the 90 minutes, if any player can hold their head up with pride, it would be Walcott. Once again the Englishman provided the attacking impetus and spark. It was his delivery that grabbed us the point. Surprisingly, given his record of assists to RvP, this time it was for someone else.
Walcott was lively throughout and played very intelligently. Almost always making the right decisions to either run in behind Riise of dropping off to collect the short pass. His dribbling ability seemed to have improved as well, the first half run an example of that. This was a continuation of his recent improvement in form.
Santos was another one who stood out in the match. He hardly ever seemed to lose the ball and such is his confidence in his ability, even in tight spaces, he was calm and collective on the ball. You can see the improvement in his fitness and despite tweeting earlier that he has come down with flu, that never showed in his performance.
Aaron Ramsey seemed to get a lot of stick in the aftermath of the game. Which shows just how short term a human memory is. The immediate 90 minutes gone is the only one being taken into account. Give the boy a break. He’s barely 21 years old and has played brilliantly over the course of the last 1.5 months.
We cannot forget the fact that he came back from a very long layoff. It is not a explanation nor an excuse for his subdued performance yesterday but no player can be expected to produce his highest level game in, game out. Even the best players in the world has their off day. Lionel Messi didn’t help his Barcelona team to even get a point last night. Does that mean that the little Argentinian is crap?
Yes, I would agree that tiredness and fatigue probably played a big part in the outcome of the match. The time in between both matches were perhaps a little short for the body to fully recover. Could Wenger have freshen up the team more by making more changes? Would the changes be able to play at the level that the “first 11” has? On the evidence of Arshavin’s performance, the answer would veered more towards no.
In the grand scheme of things, I would take the point. It preserves our unbeaten run and that was the 10th game in a row which we haven’t lost. There will be days like this throughout the season. In recent seasons, we might even have failed to fight back and lost this game. A week’s rest will see the boys back to their physical best for Wigan.
It’s not the end of the world.