Another typical Arsenal week of downs and ups was concluded today with a fairly straight forward win at Craven Cottage.
With Arsenal desperately needing to make up ground following last week’s disappointment at home, the comprehensive win in Istanbul on Wednesday was a great platform, despite the likelihood of tired limbs. With the derby against the old enemy down the road, a good result today was even more important.
Fulham, on the other hand started with a good win at Sunderland. Under Martin Jol they have evolved from a team that can’t win away to one that travels well but struggles to maximise home advantage, especially against the top sides.
And so it proved today, where despite terrible weather playing havoc with the playing surface in the first half, Arsenal were immediately on the front foot, outnumbering Fulham in the centre of midfield, and moving it around with pace and purpose.
Stockdale had already saved well from Walcott, when Arsenal took the lead in the 14th minute. Ramsey, who was already dominating the early midfield exchanges ms-hit an ambitious shot from 20 yards out from the right-hand side of the box, but his effort hit Giroud, who was trying to get out of the way. The Frenchman then reacted superbly to sort out his feet, get the ball under some degree of control and flick a quick shot past the stranded keeper. 1-0.
Fulham responded pretty well, with Taraabt and then Duff forcing a good double save from Szczesny, The on-loan Morroccan looked by far the most likely for the Cottagers, and probably had as many shots on goal as the rest of his team-mates combined. Such a frustrating player, but one who is gifted enough to play at this level.
Despite some Fulham pressure and a lightweight midfield with Rosicky quiet in a deeper role, Arsenal kept the hosts and arms length with good team and individual defending, whilst always looking dangerous on the break.
From one Fulham attack, Arsenal countered at pace, with Walcott eventually feeding Gibbs, whose cross-cum-shot just evaded Podolski in the middle. From the next Fulham attack, Arsenal countered again with devastating effect, with Cazorla bursting through the centre and feeding Walcott, whose shot from a narrow angle on the right was well saved by the busy Stockdale. The ball came out to edge of the area, and Podolski hit a controlled first time side-foot with great power past the recovering keeper and Hangelaand on the line. 2-0.
It could, and maybe should, have been three before the break, with Podolski inexplicably choosing to cross rather than shoot following another quick break
At half-time the only cause for concern was a cheap booking for Ramsey (compared to some of the Fulham tackles), which was out of character for Howard Webb’s overall excellent calm game management. As Arsenal’s most defensive midfielder, pressed into a role that isn’t entirely natural for him, the possibility of a second yellow on a slippy pitch seemed high, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in hoping he might come off in the second half. To his credit, he defended very sensibly in the second half, staying on his feet and continuing to be a major influence in the game.
Fulham managed to sustain a little pressure after the interval with Taraabt again looking the most likely, despite also being wasteful at times, and he forced another smart stop down low from The Pole in the goal.
Before too long, another counter sealed the victory, when Giroud did excellently to somehow control a fairly wild clearance, before stetting Walcott free, who in turn fed Cazorla. It looked like the Spaniard had wasted the chance, but he laid it back to Podolski, who fired unerringly into the corner from just inside the box. 3 -0. And game over.
Unsurprisingly, Arsenal took their foot off the gas, with Monreal replacing Giroud, pushing Podolski up front, and Wilshere replacing the quiet Rosicky. This easing off gave Fulham a sniff, and a lone moment of brilliance from the otherwise anonymous Berbatov forced a good save from Szczesny, and substitute Darren Bent tapped in the rebound on his home debut. 3-1.
As seems often to be the case, the childhood Arsenal fan (who admits to always buying Wilshere, Giroud and Ramsey on Football Manager) has a great goalscoring record against us. That said, this game also showed his limitations, and why, despite having a goal ratio of almost one every other game, he has now scored at this level for 6 different teams (and for most of them against us!). I think he only touched the ball twice in his cameo.
Rather than sitting back and holding on, Arsene rolled the dice once more, bringing on Sanogo for Podolski, and the team responded, dominating the last ten minutes in terms of possession and chances, with Walcott and Jenkinson totally dominating their side of the pitch. Each put in great crosses, which only great defending from Aaron Hughes saved from being tap ins for Sanogo. Theo also had time to have a good shot saved very late on.
The final whistle was greeted with smiles and hugs on the pitch, and surprisingly Wenger got a warm embrace from Martin Jol too.
So a comfortable 3 -1 win, with goals up front, a solid defensive display and no fresh injury problems. A good way to finish a good week, and a reminder to any potential signings that this is still a team with plenty of talent and fight.
Afterwards, Le Boss was understandably fairly puffed up.
‘I’m pleased because we played like a real team. We did it in a convincing way,’.
‘It was important to respond straight away, we’ve had two convincing wins – one at Fenerbahce and one here today.’
And play like a team we did. No one was outstanding, but everyone played well, and it was noticeable how hard they all worked for each other. The infamously lazy Podolski was back on one of his hard-working days, and was rewarded with two very well taken goals. Even Rosicky, who was quiet, was tireless in his application.
What was equally noticeable was how much maturity and calm the team played with, and how much the positive lessons learnt at the end of last season and in this pre-season seem to have bedded in. We’re playing as a team, there is some defensive cohesion, Ramsey has really kicked on a level, Giroud’s finishing has improved a bit, and Sagna has shown that he may get a contract extension as a centre-back, as he was first to almost everything today.
Accordingly Wenger praised his current crop of players.
‘I’m happy because we have great players, I could afford to rest Jack [Wilshere] today,’ Wenger added.
‘We have young British and English players who will get a chance with us.
‘People can focus too much on who we need to buy and forget how good the players are we have here.’
He also singled out Podolski for praise, strengthening the suggestion that we have rejected interest from Shalke and others:
“I am pleased for him because he hasn’t started much recently more because of the balance of the team than his performances.
“I am pleased because he plays with a lot of spirit and he can score goals. Everybody in the squad loves Lukas and I want to keep him. When a player doesn’t play he is not happy and recently he did not always start but if you look at his and Giroud’s goalscoring record it’s very good.”
Giroud, who got his third goal in as many games this season, also rightly drew praise:
“His second season is always better than his first one. You could see as well technically today that he was quite impressive. His physical presence up front is very important and I think he looks like he’s much more confident than last year.”
Giroud also kept us his odd record of scoring league goals in London – Out of 13, he has scored 11 at the Emirates, 1 at West Ham and now 1 at Fulham. So this time next week would be nice!
On wider issues, we have had two good results, which we should enjoy, but it doesn’t changed our need for new bodies. Our bench today was rather youth team heavy, and we have a real lack of options. As Guardian journalist and not-so-closet Gooner Amy Lawrence said on twitter
Impressive energy and application from Arsenal after CL in midweek. This promise exactly why strengthening would be so interesting…
Accordingly, whilst confirming that new signings were unlikely before the second Fenerbace game, Arsene reassured fans that two good results would not dissuade him from making signings.
No [it won't alter my plans]. We will be a bit less under media pressure maybe but that will not change exactly. I know exactly what I want to do and that will not change.
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