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Arsenal 2 Fulham 0: Saint Santi to the Rescue!

Image

Emirates Stadium (Premier League)

Arsenal: Cazorla (58′, 62′) 

Player Ratings (via Gooner of Steel)Match HighlightsWenger’s Press Conference

Arsene Wenger had stated that he wanted his team to produce consistent results against the so-called bottom teams and the opportunity presented itself when a struggling Fulham side visited the Emirates. Despite the fact that everyone was hoping to see Lukas Podolski get some game time against such opposition, Wenger opted for the exact squad that was victorious at Villa Park and I was rather surprised to see Nacho Monreal strut his stuff on the left.

Arsenal threatened from the onset as Bacary Sagna found some space on the right and lofted a cross to Olivier Giroud but Burn rose the highest to head the ball to safety. Arsenal continued their free-flowing football and almost went ahead after some intricate passing play between Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil. The German maestro played the ball past Maarten Stekelenberg but Brede Hangeland was on hand to clear the ball away from the line.

Fulham made a rear foray forward when Dimitar Berbatov swung a cross from the right that was headed away by Sagna. Steve Sidwell latched onto the loose ball and fired a fierce shot at goal but Wojciech Szczesny made a rather unorthodox save. Fulham launched another rear attack through Ashkan Dejagah but Szczesny showed his bravery to anticipate the ball.

Santi Cazorla fired a free kick but the wall did it’s job and the loose ball fell to Sagna that blasted a goalward shot that was parried by Stekelenberg. Giroud fired the ball straight at the goalie in the follow up but he was ruled offside. Serge Gnabry made some space for himself to blast a fierce shot with his left foot but the gaolie made another fine stop. Later in the half, there was a concern for Per Mertesacker when he tumbled into Mathieu Flamini and got a whack on the head.

The second half began with a frantic pace and Fulham almost capitalized on a goalmouth scramble but Giroud made an important defensive block. On the other end, Giroud created a half chance for himself but his shot was straight at the goalie. Gnabry and Cazorla also stung the keeper’s hands with some shots and it seemed as if it was one of those days when the goalie would take all the plaudits for a good performance against Arsenal.

It wasn’t to be a day for Fulham’s goalie as Cazorla instigated a move that saw Ozil and Wilshere exchange passes before he slid onto the Englishman’s deft pass to send the Emirates faithful into raptures. While the fans were basking in the euphoria of getting the lead, Saint Santi latched onto a loose ball from Monreal’s cross to fire a left-footed drive that sailed past the goalie to make it two.

Giroud twisted his ankle after a clash with Sidwell but Wenger decided that it was the Lukas Podolski show when he brought on the German for his compatriot, Serge Gnabry. Within minutes of his arrival, Podolski blasted a shot that was parried by the goalie into the post. Podolski and Ozil worked in tandem to provide a chance for Giroud but his effort went over the bar.

Ozil’s time was up with five minutes left to spare as the boss summoned the services of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He almost marked his cameo appearance with a goal but his header sailed effortlessly over the bar. Right at the death, Darren Bent had a Fernando Torres moment when he successfully evaded the challenge of Szczesny but his effort went wide.

With Manchester City getting an expected routine win over Cardiff, anything less than a victory yesterday against a struggling Fulham would have been a major disappointment. Arsene Wenger would be afforded the chance to rotate his team a bit with the visit of Coventry City on Friday.

Here’s to Saint Santi Cazorla, Arsenal’s hero of the day.

Sayonara.

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Fulham Preview: Team News, Injury Updates and Predicted Lineups

I hope Podolski gets a chance to play today

With the games coming thick and fast, the Gunners are hoping to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League but they have the threat of Manchester City to contend with, as Cardiff visits the dreaded Etihad Stadium and are expected to be swept aside by a wave of attacking football.

Since the shocking opening day defeat to Aston Villa, the Gunners have sorted out their issues at home, notching up seven victories and two draws thus far. If they truly want to get a shot at the title, they need to make their home ground a fortress, like the Etihad that has been a model of consistency all season long.

Since that disappointing stalemate against Chelsea in late December, Arsenal has won five games on the trot and would be in bullish mode ahead of this encounter. Fulham’s record against the Gunners is downright shambolic as the Cottagers have also never won at Arsenal in 27 attempts, losing 22 and drawing the other five. This record spans up to 110 years, as Arsenal has never lost at home to Fulham in any competition.

However, Fulham has escaped the Emirates with a point in their last two games on the ground. Last season, Olivier Giroud and Dimitar Berbatov netted twice but it’s a game Mikel Arteta would want to forget quickly as he missed a 94th minute penalty that wold have handed his team all three points.

Arsenal's Mikel Arteta holds his head in his hands after he misses penalty against Fulham.

Arsenal have also kept clean sheets in seven of their last eight games at the Emirates Stadium and have won their last eight games against teams in the bottom six of the Premier League table. Arsene Wenger also believes that beating the bottom teams is vital in the run-in for the Premier League title.

Solidity at the back has been a hallmark of Arsenal’s success at the Emirates Stadium this term, with just six goals conceded in 10 Premier League matches. Arsenal also have the joint best defensive record in the league with Everton, conceding 19 league goals this season and keeping nine clean sheets.

Fulham on the other hand, have the worst defense in the Premier League, as they have shipped in 46 goals in the 21 games they’ve played so far. They have also conceded four goals to each of Everton, Manchester City and Sunderland and six to Hull in the space of the last month or so and have the fewest clean sheets (3) in the League.

Under the reins of Rene Meulensteen, Fulham has endured a somewhat inconsistent campaign and are just one point above the drop zone. Last weekend’s shock reverse Adam Johnson-inspired 4-1 loss a bitter pill to swallow, as the Cottagers lost to a fellow relegation dog fighter.

The club would hinge their hopes on the aging Berbatov that has decided not to renew his deal with the club and my buddy at Canon Crested says that this game could be an ‘audition’ for him. He was linked with a 2m move to the Emirates, via ESPN, but I don’t see Wenger taking a punt for him. The club is more concerned about some bloke called Paul-Georges Ntep. Bleeeeh.

Ashkan Dejagah and Adel Taarabt (or Tarabat, as Victor Ikpeba would call it) would provide trickery on the flanks for the opposition while the likes of vice skipper, Scotty Parker, and former Gunner trainee, Steve Sidwell, would want to sit deep and protect the back four. I must say that Parker and Sidwell have been doing a marvelous job protecting their back four, as they have conceded 46 goals, and I hope they continue in the same vein today.

However, Fulham poses a threat from set pieces as Steve Sidwell’s goal against Sunderland last weekend was Fulham’s seventh from a corner this season; a record matched only by Manchester City. There’s also the scourge, Darren Bent, has scored seven goals in 11 Premier League appearances against Arsenal.

To injury news, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are back to full fitness and will be available for selection. Elsewhere, Walcott’s knee surgery was a success and as we all know, he’s out for the season. The boss has confirmed that Mikel Arteta (calf), Nicklas Bendtner (ankle), Aaron Ramsey (thigh) and Thomas Vermaelen will remain on the sidelines.

Tomas Rosicky had an operation on his broken nose and may play with the aid of a mask, while Nacho Monreal remains a doubt following his nasty foot injury against Aston Villa.

The away team will be boosted by the return of their captain, Brede Hangeland, that had been out since October with a sciatic nerve problem, but helped the side to a first clean sheet in eight matches in the FA Cup replay against struggling Norwich. Fernando Amorebieta would face a late fitness test, but I see a fully-fit Aaron Hughes playing in his stead.

At Arsenal, I’d expect an unchanged lineup from the side that dug out a win in Villa Park but I would love to see Lukas Podolski start on the left while Santi Cazorla drifts to the right flank ahead of Serge Gnabry. Podolski is badly in need of game time and I believe that this match offers him the perfect opportunity to stake a claim for a first-team berth, as he was synonymous with the first team last season.

My predicted lineups would look like this,

Arsenal 4-2-3-1 football formationFulham 4-5-1 football formation

In case you’re not chanced to see the game, you can listen to the live audio on Arsenal Player.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Sayonara.

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Fulham 1 Arsenal 3: Prinz Poldi’s Double Puts Cottagers to the Sword

Podolski on point like a needle

Craven Cottage (Premier League)

Fulham: Bent 77′

Arsenal: Giroud 14′, Podolski 41′, 68′

The Fenerbahce game was a clear reminder of how good Arsenal can be when they are on form. A lot of positives were taken from the trip to Turkey but they were going to count for nothing if the Gunners failed to replicate that form against Fulham.

With the starting XI more or less picking itself, there was a twist when the manager chose to rest Jack Wilshere to allow Lukas Podolski a chance to start his first game this season. A tactical move worth its weight in gold.

The Gunners were the quickest off the block with some intricate passing play that saw Podolski locate Kieran GIbbs on his left. The fullback drilled a cross into the danger area but there was no player in yellow that attacked the ball. However, the breakthrough arrived when Olivier Giroud showed great improvisation as well as a cool head after blocking Aaron Ramsey’s shot to slot the ball past Stockdale in goal.

Cool: Olivier Giroud was calm in front of goal as he opened the scoring

That was his third goal in three games and it’s fair to say that the floodgates are opening for Arsenal’s same Ol’ G.

Giroud almost turned from scorer to provider when he was anticipated the ball to fashion a chance for Santi Cazorla. The diminutive magician blasted the ball with his left foot but it was easy pickings for the goalie. There was a brief moment of concern when Cazorla carelessly fouled the mercurial Adel Taarabt on the edge of the box. Patjim Kasami stepped to take the dead ball and the wall did its job but Wojciech Szczesny was there to mop up when the ball arrived in his path.

Taarabt was in the thick of things yet again and he was causing problems from the flanks but his cross into the danger area was intercepted by Per Mertesacker which led to a swift Arsenal counter attack. After some good play from Walcott and Ramsey, Gibbs was open in the box but he fired his effort wide off the mark.

It was pretty much end to end stuff in this game and there was a period when Fulham was as close an equalizer as Arsenal was as close to extending their lead but it’s worth noting that Podolski made sure that it was the latter. Cazorla went on a jinking run before teeing up Walcott that fired a shot which was parried by the goalie but Podolski was on hand to blast a rebound into the net.

Walcott was a thorn in the flesh of the Fulham defenders and he made another run that brought confusion to the back line before finding Podolski on his left but the German Machine was caught in two minds on whether to latch a shot at goal or drill a pass to a teammate. He chose the latter and the ball drifted away as it sailed aimlessly away from Stockdale’s far post.

Fulham pushed on for that elusive goal that would have brought them a glimmer of hope but Szczesny made a spectacular save by diving low to his near post to parry a well-taken shot from Taarabt. Arsenal put the game beyond doubt when Cazorla located Podolski on the edge of the area and the German blasted his shot through a crowded area to make it three.

Arsene Wenger brought in some reinforcements in the forms of Wilshere and Nacho Monreal for Tomas Rosicky and Giroud, but it was a Fulham substitute that made his mark on the pitch 20 minutes after coming in. Sascha Reither lofted the ball into Arsenal’s box and it was controlled by Dimitar Berbatov.

Positive: Darren Bent got off the mark within 20 minutes of coming off the bench

Bent has now scored 7 goals in 9 games against Arsenal

The Bulgarian blasted a shot that was parried by Szczesny but he guided the ball into Darren Bent’s path and the forward wasted no time in placing it to an unguarded net.

Arsenal pushed for a fourth goal and almost got it when Wilshere’s shot ricocheted to Mertesacker’s path but the German’s tame shot was saved by the goalie.

There was a milestone for Arsenal’s newbie, Yaya Sanogo, as he made his debut late on for Lukas Podolski. It was almost a dream debut when Walcott was close to creating a chance for him with a drilled effort but it was blocked for a corner kick.

Walcott was a real menace as the game progressed and he was close to getting a goal late on but it was parried by the goalie.

In the end, it was a very good day in the office for Arsene Wenger and his team but one must wonder if he’s still going to delve into the transfer market following two impressive away wins on the bounce.

In his post-match press conference, the media barraged him with questions about the team’s performance as well as the latest speculation regarding Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye, as he was left out of the Magpies’ squad in the stalemate against West Ham. It’s good to see the Gunners in form again but they have to retain their focus ahead of the second leg against Fenerbahce before the big North London Derby coming up soon.

Have a lovely Sunday.

Sayonara.

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Fulham vs. Arsenal: Time to Kickstart the Season

Koscielny will not be available for this tie

Arsenal visit Craven Cottage in the lunch time fixture brimming in confidence after a stellar performance against Fenerbahce in Turkey. Prior to the Fenerbahce game, the world of Arsenal seemed to have collapsed from within in the wake of that abject outing against Aston VIlla in the opening weekend of the season.

Fulham on the other hand, enjoyed a good start to their Premier League campaign, winning away against Sunderland with a goal from Patjim Kasami. Martin Jol did some good business this summer, acquiring Tottenham’s Scott Parker, AS Roma’s Maarten Stekelenberg, QPR’s Adel Taarabt, Aston Villa’s Darrent Bent, athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Amorebieta among others while Arsenal, errrrm, got them some Yaya Sanogo. Great.

In terms of injuries, Fulham have a couple of players sidelined with key defender, Kieran Richardson, out with a hamstring injury. New recruit in goal, Stekelenberg, is also out with a shoulder injury while Amorebieta faces a late fitness test after suffering a knock. At Arsenal, the usual suspects Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Mikel Arteta (thigh), Ryo Miyaichi (rib), Thomas Vermaelen (back) and Abou Diaby (knee) will be joined by Laurent Koscielny that is injured and suspended.

Fulham has enjoyed a good record against Arsenal in recent times, losing just one of the teams’ last five fixtures, but Arsenal did win the most recent meeting as Per Mertesacker scored the only goal in a 1-0 away win in April that saw both sides end the match with 10 men. In that away clash last season, Fulham began the game on a bad note following a red card to Steve Sidwell but they were equal with Arsenal personnel wise when Olivier Giroud was sent off as well.

The head to head record between both sides is pretty interesting as three of the last five meetings between the two clubs have ended in a draw. Fulham have also won just three of 24 Premier League matches against the Gunners; all three of those wins have come at Craven Cottage while the Gunners have won on eight of their 12 trips to Craven Cottage since Fulham were promoted to the Premier League.

On a bad note, there have been four red cards in the last three Premier League fixtures between the teams at Fulham and I hope we won’t see any today again.

Fulham have lost their last four home matches dating back to last season, including April’s 1-0 defeat to the Gunners. They were beaten nine times at Craven Cottage during the 2012-13 campaign – the equal-most home defeats in last season’s Premier League. However, the Gunners have to be mindful about Fulham’s new recruit, Darren Bent, that has scored six goals in his last eight Premier League games against Arsene Wenger’s side.

Arsenal on the other hand, took 19 points in London derbies last season, which was more than any club from the capital. A win against Fulham would see the Gunners achieve a milestone as victory would see them become the first club to register 100 London derby wins in the Premier League.

And for those that don’t know, all 12 of Olivier Giroud’s 12 Premier League goals have been scored in London with 11 scored on his home ground. In the corresponding fixture last season, Giroud bagged a brace in the 3-3 draw.

The Gunners also have to be very mindful of the threat Fulham poses from the wings with Damien Duff on the left and the charismatic Adel Taarabt on the right. There’s also the threat of their Costa Rican maverick, Bryan Ruiz, as well as the canny nature of Fulham’s star striker, Dimitar Berbatov.

To team news. I would expect Wojciech Szczesny to continue in goal after a brilliant performance against Fenerbahce. He was committed to his side and made many outstanding saves as well as that epic moment of bravery when he put his body in the line to block Moussa Sow’s attempt on goal. In defense, Koscielny’s suspension would pave the way for another Sagna-Mertesacker partnership and they would be flanked by Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson.

I would expect an unchanged midfield triumvirate that includes Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosciky. The British hub in the midfield finally clicked with each other in Turkey and we can only hope that he would build on their newly-found partnership, till a certain Yohan Cabaye or Mathieu Flamini arrives. Mikel Arteta is still out nursing an injury.

Finally to attack, I don’t see Lukas Podolski getting into the team just yet, so it would be the Santi-Walcott combo in the wings with OG12 spearheading the attack.

I’d expect both line ups to look like this,

It’s time to kickstart the season.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.

Sayonara.

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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. :D

12/13: Fulham 0-1 Arsenal - Per Mertesacker

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.

Sayonara.

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