Monday, January 2, 2012

Arsenal slips at Craven Cottage, waits for the King's return

Fulham (Sidwell 85', Zamora 90') 2-1 Arsenal (Koscielny 25')

After signing off 2011 in winning style, it was time for Arsenal to begin 2012 in the most terrible way. We traveled to Craven Cottage yesterday looking for 3 sweet points only to be punched in the nuts in the dying minutes of the game. It should be noted that Arsenal had a rest of only one full day after a hard fought victory at the Emirates against a resolute QPR side. But premier league table is not very forgiving especially when it comes to the Arsenal. Our second game in 3 days meant our starting lineup was already jaded from their NYE efforts. What it lead to was a match of two halves, one which showed promise and spirit and the other where we had our back against the wall.

Despite the recent shortage of fit fullbacks, we were able to field a reasonable eleven who on paper were good enough to claim at least one away point. We hit the ground running immediately and Gervinho was presented with an opportunity at the edge of Fulham box in the first minute. Our Ivorian roadrunner had ample time to aim his shot but his strike was wayward and half-hearted. It frustrates me to see how many half chances we miss, an area where we really need to work on. It was not a clear cut goal scoring opportunity but Gervinho should have at least tested the keeper. Fulham fielded an attacking team and tried to score on counter attack. But misdirected crosses and slow pace meant they never provided a real threat to Chesney. We settled well in the game and had our first real chance when Gervinho made his typical run at Senderos. The former Arsenal defender was beaten by Gerv's trickery and bungled him over in the box. In any other league or for any other team in the premier league, it would have been a penalty. But Lee Probert, who I've never liked because he's average, once again showed why I don't like him. An incident which was a stonewalled penalty was ignored by the referee and it left Arsene fuming on the sideline. We were robbed once again of a penalty in last three games. Ramsey was our creative midfielder last evening and he didn't disappoint with his distribution. He could improve the accuracy of his passes but he showed real desire to make an impact in the game.On one of his deflected cross, Koscielny found himself in the Fulham box. The resultant header saw Frenchman scored his first goal in 2012 and his fourth goal for Arsenal. Fulham looked to equalize immediately but Koscielny made some great interceptions and one-on-one challenges which left Zamora look like some stupid muck. As the first half tailed off, Fulham grew in the game and looked to create chances through Bryan Ruiz. He almost scored after a mazy run in our box but Song made a superb sliding tackle to nip the ball off his feet. We finished the first half one goal up but the late Fulham surge meant that it was always going to be difficult to defend the most slender of the leads.

Both the teams who started the game looked completely different in the second half. Fulham attacked with more purpose and looked threatening going forward whereas Arsenal looked knackered and completely off pace. Theo who was anonymous in the first half was once again sloppy in his decision making. At times I wonder what goes on in his funny little brain whenever he gets the ball. As Fulham grew in confidence, Theo's misplaced crosses and wayward shooting only added to the pressure. There was an omen of the impending doom when Chesney came off his line needlessly on a Murphy free kick. He has had a brilliant start to this season and looked flushed after that mistake. As our work rate dropped Dembele and Ruiz grew more and more influential in the midfield. Djourou and Coquelin were made to work very hard by Fulham wingers in the second half. The intense defensive workout got the better of Djourou when he seemed to clutch his thigh, apparently due to a groin strain. He decided to play through the pain but the mild injury definitely slowed his reflexes. It immediately drew a foul out of him when he slammed into a Fulham player from the back. If only our team had an omen reader, he could have heard the alarm bells ringing. All hell eventually broke lose when Per came off the defensive line to make an interception. He was beaten off the ball and Dempsey tried to send Zamora clear who was then slightly held by Djourou. It was a definite yellow card and second for Djourou which meant that we were left with only 10 men.

The already tired players were forced to defend out of their skin and our resistance gave away eventually when Chesney, once again left his line early and flapped Alminia-esquely on a Fulham corner. The loose ball was duly buried in our goal by Sidwell and it only looked a matter of time when we would concede the second. As if to hasten that process, Arsene replaced Ramsey with Squillaci, a player so below par that no other team is willing to sign him. In the dying minutes, Squillaci with his only touch of the game, headed into the path of an unmarked Zamora who duly obliged by scoring past our hapless defense. It was the final blow of the game which brought an end to the miserable evening for Arsenal.

We not only lost the game and slipped to fifth place in the league table, we also lost another fullback which means we will be scraping at the bottom of the pan of our defensive resources, read Squillaci. But then I don't blame the player for being average or below average. It's Arsene's fault who keeps giving him chances to make our life more painful. Squillaci has never impressed with his performances and if we start him in the next game, it could only bring more misery to the team. Coquelin was impressive playing out of position at left back but was at fault for not marking Zamora for Fulham's second goal. Per Mertesacker generally looks convincing but his adventure to leave the defensive line did cost Djourou his second yellow. Per should realize that he's slow in his movements and can't attack the ball as a defender. I'm sure Chesney would be unfazed by his goalkeeping blunder but he needs to learn from the mistakes. The more worrying signs for me is in our attacking department where once again we lacked the cutting edge. Gervinho has been with us now for six months and someone should ask him to work on his shooting. Theo continues to play Jekyll and Hyde. He should also spend less time on the golf course and work on his crosses or soon The Ox will take over his position. Our attack is crying out for help, it needs a messiah. We can't call Dennis but Arsene has called back the King. Let's hope he can bring back the good times to the Arsenal. Over to you Titi.

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