Fulham 2 Arsenal 1: Bobby Zamora gives the sucker punch after a shambolic second half display
Arsenal ended the year on a high with a 1-0 victory over QPR and everybody expected the Gunners to maintain its form against Fulham.
There was so much talk about Arsene Wenger rotating the squad because he had basically used the same lineup from September till the end of the year.
Francis Coquelin put up a decent shift when he came on for the injured Thomas Vermaelen so he impressed Wenger enough to hand him a start in an unfamiliar left back position ahead of Ignasi Miquel.
Asides that, it was the same ol’ starting XI we’ve become accustomed to. Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Johan Djourou completed the defense line. Alex Song and Mikel Arteta’s importance to the squad made them start yesterday’s game but Aaron Ramsey replaced Tomas Rosicky.
With Alan Shearer’s goal scoring distraction…record out of the way, Robin van Persie had a new year to achieve more with Arsenal and he had Theo Walcott and Gervinho providing wit down the flanks.
Reports emerging about Walcott’s demand for £85,000 per week dominated the pre-match proceedings on Twitter at least.
In recent weeks, Gervinho and Walcott have been suspect for their profligacy in front of goal and the game against Fulham was no different.
Arsenal started as the brighter side and Walcott’s cross to Gervinho ended up killing a few birds up in the sky. Ramsey made a quick turn and let one rip but Stockdale in goal was equal to the challenge.
The first major talking point of the game arrived when old pal Phillippe Senderos infringed Gervinho in the box and as expected in recent times, the official got it wrong again.
However, Arsene Wenger had a smile on his face when Koscielny nodded home a deflected cross from Ramsey to put the away side ahead.
Ramsey almost made it two but a quick reflex save from Stockdale was enough to keep Fulham in it. A goal-mouth scramble involving Song and some Fulham defenders followed but it was cleared away later on.
Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz looked dangerous all night and he made a slalom run into the heart of Arsenal’s defense before blasting his effort wide.
Coquelin was very encouraging in attack when Arsenal hosted QPR and he was equally adept in attack against Fulham. There was a joyous moment when he made a step-over to dribble past Ruiz but van Persie failed to connect well with his drilled cross.
I don’t know what Wenger told his boys at halftime but Arsenal looked a completely different side in the second half. Passes weren’t connecting, the passion was lacking and Fulham suddenly had the upper hand.
Ruiz had a shot in the box that was blocked by Wojciech Szczesny, Steve Sidwell fired one from 30 yards but Arsenal’s goalie had it covered.
Senderos got on the end of Danny Murphy’s free kick but his header missed by a whisker. In quick succession, Clint Dempsey nodded the ball just wide after getting the better of Per Mertesacker.
Wenger brought on Yossi Benayoun in place of Gervinho to keep Fulham’s wing play at bay. The second major call of the game arrived when Djourou was adjudged to have fouled Bobby Zamora. The ref wasted no time in brandishing a red card for a second bookable offense and I had a big hunch that it was going to go downhill from there.
Wenger brought Sebastien Squillaci from his French lair and sent him to the pitch to replace Aaron Ramsey in Arsenal’s bid to defend its slender 1-0 advantage.
With barely five minutes left in regulation time, Ruiz swung in a corner but Szczesny got a hand on the ball to move it to Senderos’ direction. The ex-Gunner headed it back into the 6-yard box and Sidwell was on hand to head home Fulham’s equalizer.
At the moment, it was fair to say that the equalizer was deserved because Fulham pressed and probed while Arsenal was quite shambolic in its overall play.
We everyone felt that a draw was going to be on the cards, Fulham got a goal right from the White Rabbit’s hat, with the rabbit being Arsenal’s own Seb Squillaci that nodded the ball straight to Zamora who wasted no time in lashing home the match winner with seconds to spare.
When Arsenal was within touching distance of teams at the top, the Wenger boys invoked the spirit of the tail end of last season to lose more ground.
Szczesny (6.5) made some saves but was suspect in some of his decision making.
Djourou (6.0) struggled a bit and the red card didn’t do well to help his cause.
Coquelin (7.0) put another good shift in an unfamiliar left back role.
Koscielny (7.0) scored his first goal since the winner against Everton in February 2011.
Mertesacker (6.5) lost the ball that led to Djourou’s sending off.
Song (6.5) had chances to shoot the ball when Fulham defended really deep but the ‘Arsenal Effect’ made him pass all balls.
Arteta (6.0) was a bit sloppy in possession.
Ramsey (6.5) gave Arsenal’s assist.
Gervinho (6.0) clearly has the African Cup of Nations in his mind. Missed a few chances and held on the ball too long.
Walcott (6.0) didn’t play like a footballer that deserves £85,000 per week.
Van Persie (6.0) lacked service from his team.
Benayoun and Rosicky (6.0) didn’t make any impact on the game.
Squillaci didn’t play long enough to get a rating.
The game against Fulham has opened our eyes to realize that change is badly needed at Arsenal. Wenger cannot continue to fold his arms and see his team buckle under intense pressure.
I also know that bad officiating has become a cliche at Arsenal so there’s no point crying over spilled milk. Theo Walcott is another player that has not living up to expectations in recent weeks and I feel it’s high time to unleash the Ox.
The quote of the day goes to Lad The Gooner,
“@LadGooner: Our spirit has got us where we are but we can’t go an entire season relying on spirit alone. I back Wenger 100% but we need new players.”
Arsene Wenger should be giving credit for getting Arsenal were they are at the moment.
But new players are needed becuase injuries have hit the club really hard.
Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.