Arsenal 3 (Giroud 11, Podolski 23, Giroud 69) – Fulham 3 (Berbatov 29, Kacaniklic 40, Berbatov 67 (pen))
Man of the Match – Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)
Frustrating! Frustrating! Really really frustrating! I let out so much groans and moans last night, than I doubt I have done for any other game. In a typically Arsenal performance, Arsenal threw away a 2-0 lead, to concede 3 goals to Fulham, and then went on to equalize, but failed to take a gift of a penalty right at the end of the game.
Arsenal’s starting lineup had only 1 change from the Schalke game, with Francis Coquelin coming in for the suspended Jack Wilshere. Fulham, on the other hand, handed starts for Iranian winger Ashkan Dejagah and former Sunderland and Manchester United winger Kieran Richardson.
The opening exchanges were dominated by Fulham possession. The Cottagers looked comfortable passing the ball around in the middle of the pitch. But, it was Arsenal who took the lead, completely against the run of play, when Walcott’s corner was headed in by Olivier Giroud, who escaped the attentions of his marker, Aaron Hughes.
Arsenal tried to get some fluency into the game, but the Fulham duo of Steve Sidwell and Chris Baird had a fantastic day, as they tried to restrict Gunners’ movements. Kieran Richardson hobbled off the pitch, with a hamstring pull, to be replaced by young Swedish winger Alex Kacaniklic.
Arsenal looked to be cruising, as minutes later, as Lukas Podolski put the Gunners 2-0 ahead, with his sidefoot, as Mikel Arteta escaped the attentions of the Fulham defence, to calmly assist the German.
Arsenal’s defensive frailties were exposed yet again, this time by the duo of Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz. The Bulgarian and the Costa Rican worked in tandem with Alex Kacaniklic to torment Arsenal’s defence for large parts of the game.
Fulham got the goal they deserved, minutes later, when Berbatov was allowed a free header in the box off a Ruiz corner. Thomas Vermaelen, who seemed to be marking the former Manchester United striker, should have been doing better.
And, Arsenal’s self wreck button was well and truely activated. Sasha Reither’s pass from the right, into the path of Berbatov, was delightfully teed up for an onrushing Kacaniklic to head home. The defence was poorly positioned, and the goalkeeper Vito Mannone, really should have done better. But, you couldn’t begrudge Fulham, for the equalizer, who were clearly better than their opponents on the afternoon.
And, Fulham could have completed the improbable just before half time, when John Arne-Riise’s cross was almost turned in by Dejagah, and then Berbatov, but Mertesacker was on hand to allay the dangers.
Arsenal stepped up the pressure in the second half, despite Fulham keeping more calm possession. Theo Walcott (plus moustache), looked bright all game, and had two great chances himself to help put the Gunners into the lead. His cross from the right flank, failed to meet the head of Giroud, who seemed to inexplicable duck at the time of contact, and then the England winger ran in through the middle, but his left footed shot was wide. Aaron Ramsey (plus moustache) replaced Coquelin.
Fulham, continued toying with the Gunners, and a poor defensive lapse on Arsenal’s part allowed them to take the lead. It was a routine corner clearance, when Cazorla played the ball to Arteta, who dangled long on the ball, only for Ruiz to dispossess him. In an attempt to retrieve the ball, Arteta dangled with the Costa Rican and bundled him over. Berbatov cooly put away the penalty. Fulham were in the lead.
And, Fulham almost had a fourth, when Kacaniklic came rushing from the left, but his shot was smothered by Mannone. Moments later, Arsenal had the lead. Giroud was put through, and the French striker only managed to hit the post. However, the ball came right to the feet of Walcott (plus moustache), who delivered an inch perfect cross for Giroud to head home the equalizer.
Giroud, rejuvenated by his two goal salvo, then tested Schwarzer with a dipping long range effort. Arsenal looked to win the game, as they bought on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Lukas Podolski, and Andrei Arshavin for an injured Walcott (plus moustache).
Fulham still had the drive to score the winner, as Berbatov was put through, but a brilliant last ditch challenge from Koscielny prevented the danger just as the Bulgarian was about to pull the trigger. Koscielny was on hand again with a last ditch tackle as Dejagah found himself in the box.
Bryan Ruiz was heckling Arsenal’s midfield. Rather bullying. Arteta and Cazorla, together failed thrice to win the ball from him. But, Ruiz looked to have cost his team the point, when a needless long ball came right to the path of Arshavin. The Russian ran at the Fulham defence, and his attempted cross struck the arm of a Fulham defender.
Phil Dowd harshly awarded the Gunners a penalty. Arteta took responsibility, but his reasonably well struck shot was saved by Schwarzer, diving to his right. Justice done.
It prompted me to do a 360 and even fall to my knees, a la Wenger. It was that frustrating to see yet another draw, as Arsenal continue their league campaign at snail’s pace.
Positives, there are quite a few. First, Olivier Giroud looks like he is finally getting the service he needs. 4 headed goals now in the last 4 games. He won a lot of aerial duels, bringing in the others into play, which was pretty impressive. Francis Coquelin had a decent game too, when he allowed Cazorla and Arteta to run free. But, Sidwell and Baird worked in tandem to nullify much threat. Walcott (plus moustache) definitely looks like one who merits a contract.
Negatives, there are plenty as usual. Starting from the back. Mannone definitely pulled off a couple of fine saves, but could have done better with Fulham’s second goal. That said, Arsenal’s defence literally sucked again last night. The goals conceded really aren’t what you see a top team conceding week in, week out.
Sagna lost the ball far too often, and just couldn’t handle the pace of Riise and Kacaniklic. Fulham had several attacks from our left flank, which still is a concern. In midfield, Arteta had a poor game. Just like at United, he was completely nullified. Cazorla, like he has in the past few weeks, looked jaded. But, yet looked to provide some sparks. Ramsey was piss poor when he came on. He lost the ball far too often for anyone’s comfort, and could have easily seen red for the challenges he was making. Podolski looks a bit lost on the left. I would love to see him up front with Giroud, but, with Wenger, you know a change of tactics wouldn’t happen anytime soon.
This fixture really should have been picking up 3 points. But, again Arsenal blew it. How long would it take for the Gunners to stabilize and find their momentum. Last season, the catalyst for a late turnaround in fortune and form was the home game against Sp*rs in the league. Bring on the cunts!
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