For obvious reasons, I didn’t have much intention of writing a blog today. Well, first day back at work and Arsenal, again, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, what would be the fucking point in reliving that? But my mate Gerry Pimm, to be found on Twitter under the very simple handle @gerrypimm, asked if I was going to write a blog. Obviously, Gerry is a Fulham fan. More than that, a Fulham season ticket holder. But don’t hold it against him, he’s a very funny guy. And as he asked, I feel kind of obliged to commit some thoughts to internet based paper.
As anyone who read yesterday’s blog will know, I was concerned about our prospects in south west London last night. Fulham, generally, isn’t an easy place to go and we had laboured to victory against a poor QPR side just 48 hours previously. My concern was magnified by a starting line up that saw only two changes from the previous match- one enforced, with the excellent Coquelin replacing Vermaelen at left back, Gervinho returning to the team in place of Arshavin.
It was around Gervinho that much of the early action revolved as Arsenal came out of the traps pretty well. First Gervinho skied a volley from distance that the watching Matt Le Tissier described as a “poor effort” (and if anyone should know, I guess Le Tissier’s your man). He then put a slightly more difficult volley from a corner high and wide and then he should have had a penalty. Running into the box, he cut inside Senderos- or “Sen-dare-os” as Alan Parry persisted in calling him and the Swiss, with that clumsiness we all came to loathe, took his legs away. A clear penalty. But not as far as referee Lee Probert was concerned. The anger wasn’t allowed to simmer for too long as, despite Zamora forcing a good save from Szczesny at the other end, we soon took the lead- Laurent Koscielny firmly nodding Ramsey’s deflected cross past David Stockdale.
It should have been two soon after, as Stockdale made a good save from.. Ramsey? The follow up which may have been deflected by a Fulham defender was goalbound until it struck Stockdale on the knee. The ball eventually ran out off the post for a corner. On more than occasion, Theo was in space in the penalty area but ignored by whoever had the ball. Van Persie ignored him one minute, when Theo got the ball the next, he wasted it, prompting the, correct, observation that perhaps that was why van Persie hadn’t passed moments earlier. At the other end, Ruiz kept us honest with a mazy run run through the centre of midfield before fizzing a shot just wide of the goal. The tigerish Coquelin produced a lovely little stud roll to earn space for a cross to the near post which van Persie put just wide with the outside of his right foot. We were more than value for our lead at half time.
So what went wrong? (Everything)
Well, it’s been a common refrain this season, in fact I think it’s been a common refrain throughout Arsene’s 15 years in England that we don’t convert enough of the chances we create. And that’s certainly been true over the festive period. It cost us two points against Wolves and, yesterday, it cost us all three- make no mistake, this game should have been over at half time. With a team largely unchanged from 48 hours previous, I think the listless 49 minutes of the second half carried a certain degree of inevitably. If you add to the mix Fulham’s recent home match against Spurs, where they were spanked for 45 minutes before completely turning it around and and ending up unlucky to finish the match pointless, the second half can’t be seen as total shock, because Fulham were always going to improve.
Senderos went close with a header after a Szczesny charge and flap, someone else went almost as close, Szczesny made another good save from Ruiz, this time. At the other end, we offered…. nothing. In addition, Lee Probert looked like he had decided to try and even things up a bit. To the extent that Johan Djourou could be fouled three times in quick succession- by different players- and Theo Walcott could be physically shoved off the pitch (in a separate incident) but no fouls awarded. I think that when you see these incidents and then look at the second yellow which sealed Djourou’s, and Arsenal’s, fate then Arsene does have legitimate cause for complaint. I don’t have an argument over the first yellow, mind.
So, down to ten men for the last ten minutes, Squillaci on the pitch, Fulham scented blood. Of course they did. And they drew it with five minutes left, Szczesny again flapping at a corner, Senderos header back across goal was turned in by another Arsenal old boy, Steve Sidwell. Fuck. Clearly, Arsenal weren’t going to score again, any attacking threat all but nullified by the removal of the erratic Gervinho and useless Walcott, so the only question left was: could they hold out for a point?
Well, you all know the answer to that was no, a Squllaci header calamitously dropping to the unmarked Bobby Zamora to fire home a winner with 30 seconds of injury time left. Chelsea had leapfrogged us back into 4th place earlier in the day and to end up out of the Champions League places because of a result like this is immensely frustrating. But, as I said earlier, we don’ take enough of our chances and three goals from two home matches against Wolves & QPR and this defeat in Fulham isn’t good enough, will never be good enough. Can Thierry Henry make a positive difference to us? On the evidence of last night, it’s difficult to conclude he could do much worse. We also need Jack Wilshere back ASAP.
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