In the two games that we’ve played Fulham this season, we’ve only managed to garner 1 point. For a club with ambitions of winning trophies and finishing as high up the league table as possible, that is simply not good enough. With Chelsea winning their match before the start of ours, it was imperative for us to match their result to maintain our 4th spot in the league. However, a defeat was all we could managed and it was hard to take.
At the beginning of this run of fixtures, we always knew that Fulham would be the toughest of the 3 games. Most, if not all, would’ve preferred Arsene Wenger to rotate the squad for Wolves and QPR so as to allow our best players to feature for this one. Surprisingly, Wenger field almost exclusively his first choice 11 for every one of these 3 games and we paid for it. Especially in the second half where we were found wanting going forward.
But fatigue or tiredness cannot be used as an excuse. Fulham players also played the same amount of games with almost the same set of players each time. Yet they kept pushing and chasing in the second half when we seemed to have lost our legs. It was a complete turnaround in terms of control of the match. The statistics told the whole story (via Orbinho on Twitter, Arsenal 2nd numbers)
First half Second half
Shot 9 – 16 13 – 3
On target 1 – 9 4 – 0
Fouls 3 – 6 4 – 7
Duels won 50% – 50% 57% – 43%
Possession 47% – 53% 53% – 47%
One look at the shots and possession in the second half showed how much we dropped in our performance from the 1st 45 minutes to the second 45 minutes. In truth, we should have made the game a non-contest in the first half itself. It was a combination of poor finishing and good shot-stopping by David Stockdale which kept us from taking a bigger lead. The goal came in the 21st minute when Aaron Ramsey cleverly found Laurent Koscielny inside the box and the centre back couldn’t miss with that header.
The front trio had a night to forget. Gervinho missed a few and so did Robin Van Persie. Theo Walcott was receiving a lot of the ball on the right but did little with it. His crosses either did not clear the first defender or went too far wide. Gervinho should have earned us a penalty but Lee Probert frustratingly waved play on when it was clear that Phillipe Senderos tripped him. They were not the only ones who failed to perform in this game.
We failed to cope with the attacking trio of Clint Dempsey, Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembele who kept alternating their positions. The trio found more space than we should have allowed them. Alex Song was not in his element and neither was Mikel Arteta. Possession was lost cheaply in midfield an we allowed the opposition players to glide past way too easily. Ramsey was superb in the first half but again, his stamina seemed to drop off towards the end of the game.
This time, whatever was said at half time didn’t work. The game plan looked like we were set out to contain and try hit Fulham on the break. That didn’t work because whatever pace we have in Gervinho and Walcott, they did not get a chance to use it. Fulham kept the pressure up whenever we had the ball and we couldn’t keep the ball beyond 3 or 4 passes. The substitutions to bring on Yossi Benayoun and Tomas Rosicky was meant to give us more experience in the middle and try to gain better control of the game but even that didn’t work.
In the second half it was all Fulham but our back five defended stoutly, up until the 76th minute mark anyway. It was then that Johan Djourou was sent off for a second yellow. You can argue that for Bobby Zamora to go down that easily was laughable but Djourou had an arm on Zamora and it was easy for Probert to make that decision. It was the first yellow which caused us, Dembele had his back towards our goal and there was no need for Djourou to dive in with the tackle.
The sending off sent us into chaos. Wenger had no choice but to sub in Sebastien Squillaci and play him at right back. Though, I’m sure plenty would have swap Koscielny to the right and ensure that a shaky Squillaci isn’t put to play out of position. Some suggested that it would’ve been better if Ignasi Miquel came on at left back with Francis Coquelin switched to the right. However, not much blame could be lay individually on Squillaci for what is to happen next.
Fulham equalised when Wojciech Szczesny flapped at a corner and did not put enough distance in his punch. Senderos puts it back into the danger area and Steve Sidwell did not miss with the open goal gaping. Szczesny did make a good save from Ruiz earlier but this wasn’t he only poor decision to come for the ball in the game. Why Senderos was allowed a free header inside our box is unknown to me.
Disaster struck in stoppage time. Again we failed to clear our lines from a cross and Zamora pounced on the rebound to slam home the winner for the home side. Squillaci should’ve made a better clearance but harsh to be judgmental on him considering there were two Fulham players challenging him for that header. Bigger question should be why no one was covering Zamora inside our own box. Again, poor defending.
It never should’ve ended that way. We had a hat-full of chances to put this game beyond Fulham’s reach in the first half. We were also not helped by an incompetent refereeing by Probert. Penalty not given not withstanding, he gave very little else to us either. RvP was fouled on numerous occasions but nothing was given. Walcott and Djourou received similar fate. One time, Probert tried to give Fulham a free kick only to be denied by his linesman who had flag for a foul the opposite way. What does he have against us?
Not the best of start to the new year. Splashing cash to solve any problem isn’t always the answer. Let us not forget how well the team has done up till this point and not ask anyone to leave just because of one match’s result. Hectic next 4 weeks expected up ahead, so brace yourself. For now, there’s another 2 weeks before we see some of these players in action again. Time to regroup and re-focus.