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Arsenal 2 Fulham 0: Saint Santi to the Rescue!


Emirates Stadium (Premier League)

Arsenal: Cazorla (58′, 62′) 

Player Ratings (via Gooner of Steel)Match HighlightsWenger’s Press Conference

Arsene Wenger had stated that he wanted his team to produce consistent results against the so-called bottom teams and the opportunity presented itself when a struggling Fulham side visited the Emirates. Despite the fact that everyone was hoping to see Lukas Podolski get some game time against such opposition, Wenger opted for the exact squad that was victorious at Villa Park and I was rather surprised to see Nacho Monreal strut his stuff on the left.

Arsenal threatened from the onset as Bacary Sagna found some space on the right and lofted a cross to Olivier Giroud but Burn rose the highest to head the ball to safety. Arsenal continued their free-flowing football and almost went ahead after some intricate passing play between Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil. The German maestro played the ball past Maarten Stekelenberg but Brede Hangeland was on hand to clear the ball away from the line.

Fulham made a rear foray forward when Dimitar Berbatov swung a cross from the right that was headed away by Sagna. Steve Sidwell latched onto the loose ball and fired a fierce shot at goal but Wojciech Szczesny made a rather unorthodox save. Fulham launched another rear attack through Ashkan Dejagah but Szczesny showed his bravery to anticipate the ball.

Santi Cazorla fired a free kick but the wall did it’s job and the loose ball fell to Sagna that blasted a goalward shot that was parried by Stekelenberg. Giroud fired the ball straight at the goalie in the follow up but he was ruled offside. Serge Gnabry made some space for himself to blast a fierce shot with his left foot but the gaolie made another fine stop. Later in the half, there was a concern for Per Mertesacker when he tumbled into Mathieu Flamini and got a whack on the head.

The second half began with a frantic pace and Fulham almost capitalized on a goalmouth scramble but Giroud made an important defensive block. On the other end, Giroud created a half chance for himself but his shot was straight at the goalie. Gnabry and Cazorla also stung the keeper’s hands with some shots and it seemed as if it was one of those days when the goalie would take all the plaudits for a good performance against Arsenal.

It wasn’t to be a day for Fulham’s goalie as Cazorla instigated a move that saw Ozil and Wilshere exchange passes before he slid onto the Englishman’s deft pass to send the Emirates faithful into raptures. While the fans were basking in the euphoria of getting the lead, Saint Santi latched onto a loose ball from Monreal’s cross to fire a left-footed drive that sailed past the goalie to make it two.

Giroud twisted his ankle after a clash with Sidwell but Wenger decided that it was the Lukas Podolski show when he brought on the German for his compatriot, Serge Gnabry. Within minutes of his arrival, Podolski blasted a shot that was parried by the goalie into the post. Podolski and Ozil worked in tandem to provide a chance for Giroud but his effort went over the bar.

Ozil’s time was up with five minutes left to spare as the boss summoned the services of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He almost marked his cameo appearance with a goal but his header sailed effortlessly over the bar. Right at the death, Darren Bent had a Fernando Torres moment when he successfully evaded the challenge of Szczesny but his effort went wide.

With Manchester City getting an expected routine win over Cardiff, anything less than a victory yesterday against a struggling Fulham would have been a major disappointment. Arsene Wenger would be afforded the chance to rotate his team a bit with the visit of Coventry City on Friday.

Here’s to Saint Santi Cazorla, Arsenal’s hero of the day.


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Fulham Preview: Team News, Injury Updates and Predicted Lineups

I hope Podolski gets a chance to play today

With the games coming thick and fast, the Gunners are hoping to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League but they have the threat of Manchester City to contend with, as Cardiff visits the dreaded Etihad Stadium and are expected to be swept aside by a wave of attacking football.

Since the shocking opening day defeat to Aston Villa, the Gunners have sorted out their issues at home, notching up seven victories and two draws thus far. If they truly want to get a shot at the title, they need to make their home ground a fortress, like the Etihad that has been a model of consistency all season long.

Since that disappointing stalemate against Chelsea in late December, Arsenal has won five games on the trot and would be in bullish mode ahead of this encounter. Fulham’s record against the Gunners is downright shambolic as the Cottagers have also never won at Arsenal in 27 attempts, losing 22 and drawing the other five. This record spans up to 110 years, as Arsenal has never lost at home to Fulham in any competition.

However, Fulham has escaped the Emirates with a point in their last two games on the ground. Last season, Olivier Giroud and Dimitar Berbatov netted twice but it’s a game Mikel Arteta would want to forget quickly as he missed a 94th minute penalty that wold have handed his team all three points.

Arsenal's Mikel Arteta holds his head in his hands after he misses penalty against Fulham.

Arsenal have also kept clean sheets in seven of their last eight games at the Emirates Stadium and have won their last eight games against teams in the bottom six of the Premier League table. Arsene Wenger also believes that beating the bottom teams is vital in the run-in for the Premier League title.

Solidity at the back has been a hallmark of Arsenal’s success at the Emirates Stadium this term, with just six goals conceded in 10 Premier League matches. Arsenal also have the joint best defensive record in the league with Everton, conceding 19 league goals this season and keeping nine clean sheets.

Fulham on the other hand, have the worst defense in the Premier League, as they have shipped in 46 goals in the 21 games they’ve played so far. They have also conceded four goals to each of Everton, Manchester City and Sunderland and six to Hull in the space of the last month or so and have the fewest clean sheets (3) in the League.

Under the reins of Rene Meulensteen, Fulham has endured a somewhat inconsistent campaign and are just one point above the drop zone. Last weekend’s shock reverse Adam Johnson-inspired 4-1 loss a bitter pill to swallow, as the Cottagers lost to a fellow relegation dog fighter.

The club would hinge their hopes on the aging Berbatov that has decided not to renew his deal with the club and my buddy at Canon Crested says that this game could be an ‘audition’ for him. He was linked with a 2m move to the Emirates, via ESPN, but I don’t see Wenger taking a punt for him. The club is more concerned about some bloke called Paul-Georges Ntep. Bleeeeh.

Ashkan Dejagah and Adel Taarabt (or Tarabat, as Victor Ikpeba would call it) would provide trickery on the flanks for the opposition while the likes of vice skipper, Scotty Parker, and former Gunner trainee, Steve Sidwell, would want to sit deep and protect the back four. I must say that Parker and Sidwell have been doing a marvelous job protecting their back four, as they have conceded 46 goals, and I hope they continue in the same vein today.

However, Fulham poses a threat from set pieces as Steve Sidwell’s goal against Sunderland last weekend was Fulham’s seventh from a corner this season; a record matched only by Manchester City. There’s also the scourge, Darren Bent, has scored seven goals in 11 Premier League appearances against Arsenal.

To injury news, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are back to full fitness and will be available for selection. Elsewhere, Walcott’s knee surgery was a success and as we all know, he’s out for the season. The boss has confirmed that Mikel Arteta (calf), Nicklas Bendtner (ankle), Aaron Ramsey (thigh) and Thomas Vermaelen will remain on the sidelines.

Tomas Rosicky had an operation on his broken nose and may play with the aid of a mask, while Nacho Monreal remains a doubt following his nasty foot injury against Aston Villa.

The away team will be boosted by the return of their captain, Brede Hangeland, that had been out since October with a sciatic nerve problem, but helped the side to a first clean sheet in eight matches in the FA Cup replay against struggling Norwich. Fernando Amorebieta would face a late fitness test, but I see a fully-fit Aaron Hughes playing in his stead.

At Arsenal, I’d expect an unchanged lineup from the side that dug out a win in Villa Park but I would love to see Lukas Podolski start on the left while Santi Cazorla drifts to the right flank ahead of Serge Gnabry. Podolski is badly in need of game time and I believe that this match offers him the perfect opportunity to stake a claim for a first-team berth, as he was synonymous with the first team last season.

My predicted lineups would look like this,

Arsenal 4-2-3-1 football formationFulham 4-5-1 football formation

In case you’re not chanced to see the game, you can listen to the live audio on Arsenal Player.

Enjoy the game wherever you are.


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Fulham 1 Arsenal 3: Prinz Poldi’s Double Puts Cottagers to the Sword

Podolski on point like a needle

Craven Cottage (Premier League)

Fulham: Bent 77′

Arsenal: Giroud 14′, Podolski 41′, 68′

The Fenerbahce game was a clear reminder of how good Arsenal can be when they are on form. A lot of positives were taken from the trip to Turkey but they were going to count for nothing if the Gunners failed to replicate that form against Fulham.

With the starting XI more or less picking itself, there was a twist when the manager chose to rest Jack Wilshere to allow Lukas Podolski a chance to start his first game this season. A tactical move worth its weight in gold.

The Gunners were the quickest off the block with some intricate passing play that saw Podolski locate Kieran GIbbs on his left. The fullback drilled a cross into the danger area but there was no player in yellow that attacked the ball. However, the breakthrough arrived when Olivier Giroud showed great improvisation as well as a cool head after blocking Aaron Ramsey’s shot to slot the ball past Stockdale in goal.

Cool: Olivier Giroud was calm in front of goal as he opened the scoring

That was his third goal in three games and it’s fair to say that the floodgates are opening for Arsenal’s same Ol’ G.

Giroud almost turned from scorer to provider when he was anticipated the ball to fashion a chance for Santi Cazorla. The diminutive magician blasted the ball with his left foot but it was easy pickings for the goalie. There was a brief moment of concern when Cazorla carelessly fouled the mercurial Adel Taarabt on the edge of the box. Patjim Kasami stepped to take the dead ball and the wall did its job but Wojciech Szczesny was there to mop up when the ball arrived in his path.

Taarabt was in the thick of things yet again and he was causing problems from the flanks but his cross into the danger area was intercepted by Per Mertesacker which led to a swift Arsenal counter attack. After some good play from Walcott and Ramsey, Gibbs was open in the box but he fired his effort wide off the mark.

It was pretty much end to end stuff in this game and there was a period when Fulham was as close an equalizer as Arsenal was as close to extending their lead but it’s worth noting that Podolski made sure that it was the latter. Cazorla went on a jinking run before teeing up Walcott that fired a shot which was parried by the goalie but Podolski was on hand to blast a rebound into the net.

Walcott was a thorn in the flesh of the Fulham defenders and he made another run that brought confusion to the back line before finding Podolski on his left but the German Machine was caught in two minds on whether to latch a shot at goal or drill a pass to a teammate. He chose the latter and the ball drifted away as it sailed aimlessly away from Stockdale’s far post.

Fulham pushed on for that elusive goal that would have brought them a glimmer of hope but Szczesny made a spectacular save by diving low to his near post to parry a well-taken shot from Taarabt. Arsenal put the game beyond doubt when Cazorla located Podolski on the edge of the area and the German blasted his shot through a crowded area to make it three.

Arsene Wenger brought in some reinforcements in the forms of Wilshere and Nacho Monreal for Tomas Rosicky and Giroud, but it was a Fulham substitute that made his mark on the pitch 20 minutes after coming in. Sascha Reither lofted the ball into Arsenal’s box and it was controlled by Dimitar Berbatov.

Positive: Darren Bent got off the mark within 20 minutes of coming off the bench

Bent has now scored 7 goals in 9 games against Arsenal

The Bulgarian blasted a shot that was parried by Szczesny but he guided the ball into Darren Bent’s path and the forward wasted no time in placing it to an unguarded net.

Arsenal pushed for a fourth goal and almost got it when Wilshere’s shot ricocheted to Mertesacker’s path but the German’s tame shot was saved by the goalie.

There was a milestone for Arsenal’s newbie, Yaya Sanogo, as he made his debut late on for Lukas Podolski. It was almost a dream debut when Walcott was close to creating a chance for him with a drilled effort but it was blocked for a corner kick.

Walcott was a real menace as the game progressed and he was close to getting a goal late on but it was parried by the goalie.

In the end, it was a very good day in the office for Arsene Wenger and his team but one must wonder if he’s still going to delve into the transfer market following two impressive away wins on the bounce.

In his post-match press conference, the media barraged him with questions about the team’s performance as well as the latest speculation regarding Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye, as he was left out of the Magpies’ squad in the stalemate against West Ham. It’s good to see the Gunners in form again but they have to retain their focus ahead of the second leg against Fenerbahce before the big North London Derby coming up soon.

Have a lovely Sunday.


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