Fulham 0 Arsenal 1: Good Result, Bad Performance
Arsenal began the week with a run of three absolutely vital games that were going to shape their Champions League qualification destiny. With fellow London rivals, Chelsea and Tottenham, within touching distance of the coveted European spots, the Gunners knew that three victories on the trot would give them some breathing space before the crunch clash against runaway title hopefuls, Manchester United.
A week that began well with a hard-fought victory over Norwich was followed by a somewhat flaccid performance against Everton. A win against a Fulham side thumped by Chelsea was absolutely vital, so Arsene Wenger wasted no time in axing the under-performing Jack Wilshere for the resurgent Tomas Rosicky. There was also a like-for-like swap as Nacho Monreal replaced Kieran Gibbs at left back.
Arsenal drew first blood when Olivier Giroud teed up Theo Walcott with a through ball but the offside flag thwarted that attack. Walcott dispatched a shot past Mark Schwarzer in goal but the officials had already made their decision. Walcott supplied an inch-perfect free kick to Laurent Koscielny’s path but the defender failed to connect well with the ball and a good chance went begging.
The first telling moment in the game arrived when former Arsenal trainee, Steve Sidwell, received his marching orders for an awful tackle on Mikel Arteta. The tackles kept flying in with Urby Emanuelson scything Aaron Ramsey down but Walcott’s free kick was pelted straight at Schwarzer.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, Fulham attacked Arsenal with threatening intent and the Gunners misery was also compounded when Emanuelson fashioned a chance for Dimitar Berbatov but his shot was parried to safety by Wojciech Szczesny in goal. Fulham continued to hit Arsenal on the break but the Gunners would have gone one up when Giroud’s shot beat Schwarzer but the post came to the Aussie’s rescue.
Emanuelson was one of Fulham’s shining lights in the first half, and he almost got on the score sheet when he won the ball after a tussle with Monreal but his shot was palmed away by Szczesny. Just when Fulham thought that they had valiantly fought for a credible stalemate at halftime, the Gunners struck a sucker punch through ze Big Friendly Giant, Per Mertesacker.
Walcott lofted a free kick that was headed across the goalmouth by Koscielny, With no one guiding Schwarzer’s far post, the German was on hand to score his third goal in Arsenal colors, with also means that he has more goals than John Mikel Obi at club level.
The second half began on a quite comical note with Wenger arriving late from the dressing room and running across the pitch, much to the amusement of a faction of the fans. Emanuelson’s trickery bought his team a free kick in a very dangerous area but Bryan Ruiz killed a bird in the sky with his free kick.
With the home side hoping for inspiration for anywhere, their right back, Manelov, made a slalom run on the Arsenal’s left hand side but after several ricochets, Mertesacker mopped up at the back. The Bulgarian fullback continued to probe Arsenal’s defense from the right hand side and almost scored a fluke that would have embarrassed Szczesny but the goalie was on hand to tip the ball over.
Arsene Wenger brought on Podolski and Wilshere for Walcott and Rosicky, who I must say, had an average time for a player of his high standards. With the game separated by a solitary goal, Fulham harbored hopes of a potential equalizer and it would have been a reality, if the fair lineswoman, Siam Massey, didn’t exist.
After giving out another needless challenge on the edge of the area, Kieran Richardson fired a gola-bound shot that was parried by Szczesny but instead of pushing it out for a corner, the Pole inexplicably choose to punch the ball straight to the bath of Manelov. The fullback placed the ball past Szczesny but the lineswoman’s flag brought an abrupt end to that attack.
Arsenal would have put the game beyond bed when some lovely interplay saw Wilshere create a glorious chance for Cazorla but the Spaniard was uncharacteristically sluggish affording Brede Hangeland the chance to make a vital interception.
A nervy ending for Arsenal went worse when Giroud was brandished a red card for a rash lounge. With the Gunners having four games left, it’s fair to say that Giroud’s season is over, except if the manager plans to use him in the final Matchday against Newcastle.
Right at the death, Monreal made a last-ditch tackle to keep the scoreline intact and Wenger threw on Thomas Vermaelen to beef the defense that was holding the fort from a Fulham onslaught. With the Cottagers going for broke, there were spaces to be exploited at the back. The intelligent Jack Wilshere sent Aaron Ramsey clear but the Welshman’s wayward finish typified Arsenal’s performance in the course of the game.
In the end, the nervy win was enough to send the Gunners into third place with Chelsea and Tottenham having tricky fixtures today against Liverpool and Manchester City respectively. There have been times when Arsenal played so well but came out with nothing.
Yesterday’s game was the exact opposite, as the Gunners achieved a good result albeit a bad performance.
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