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Arsenal 3 Fulham 3: Giroud Brace Not Enough as Arsenal Capitulate

Arteta letting out his frustration on the post

It’s really a trying period to be an Arsenal fan right now.

The relationship between Arsenal and its ever-loving, faithful fans can be likened to a man and his wife that shows off her flaws every week. Despite her nagging, countless issues and probably cheating, this man will always be there for his wife because he loves her and he’s bound to her by his wedding vows.

In this case, the fans represent the man while the bitch is …

Arsenal began the game with basically the same squad that dropped two points in Germany with the only exception being Francis Coquelin, that was drafted in for the suspended Jack Wilshere. Le Coq was directly involved in the opening goal when his good decision-making played a role in the midfielder slotting in a carefully-weighted for Theo Walcott but the cross was intercepted for a corner.

Walcott swung in the resulting corner and an unmarked Olivier Giroud jumped highest to power a header at goal. The finish was reminiscent of Didier Drogba’s powerful headed equalizer against Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League final. Despite the fact that Mark Schwarzer put his hand on the ball, it wasn’t enough as it crept in to put the home side ahead.

Giroud powers in his first goal

Arsenal’s early goal put them on the driving seat and some intricate passing play allowed Santi Cazorla to tee up Lukas Podolski with a sumptuous pass down the left but the German latched his cross way off the mark. Moments later, Fulham’s Kieran Richardson pulled up short and was replaced by Alex Kacaniklic.

Cazorla was ubiquitous in the first half, and he did well to fashion a chance for Giroud that used his quick feet to flick the ball to Arteta. The Lego-haired Spaniard shimmied past his marker before drilling a cross that was clinically dispatched by Podolski. That was his first Premier League goal since his brilliant free kick against Southampton and it was good seeing him back on the score sheet as he has been on the spotlight for his fatigue, poor form and what have you.

See how much the goal meant to him

Arsenal was in a similar situation in Germany and we all know how that panned out. The Gunners got too comfortable and were duly punished when an unmarked Dimitar Berbatov nodded in Bryan Ruiz’s in-swinger to reduce the deficit to one goal. Minutes later, there were grim faces all over the Emirates as Berbatov got in behind the defense to cross a ball that was nodded home by Kacaniklic, but in my honest opinion, the defense should have closed him down and Mannone should have done better.

Fulham almost got a third goal late in the first half when Ruiz was free on the left hand side before lofting a cross that evaded the Fulham attack but Per Mertesacker was on hand to avert the danger.

Arsenal began the second half with more urgency and almost had a goal for their efforts when Walcott dinked a cross into the box but it was beyond Giroud’s reach.

All season long, the Arsenal attack had failed to utilize the potent threat Giroud  posed in the air, but after seeing his goal against Schalke, the Gunners probably practised a lot of crosses in training, because the Gunners tore a script from the Stoke Rugby FC manual in yesterday’s game.

Giroud executed a neat one-two with Walcott, and the winger went on a mazy run before blasting his shot over the bar. Arsene Wenger withdrew Coquelin for Aaron Ramsey to add some verve to the attack. However, a moment of madness arrived when the reliable Arteta lost the ball in the edge of the box before wrestling Ruiz to the ground, leaving Phil Dowd with no choice but to point to the spot.

The execution of the penalty was perfect as Mannone was rooted to the spot while the ball found the corner of the net.

Welcome back, Szczesny!

From two goals up, the Gunners were 3 – 2 down against a side that have not won at the Emirates since the days Sylvester Stallone fought in the first instalment of Rocky Balboa. Fulham almost made it embarrassing when John Arne Riise was free on the left but Mannone blocked his venomous shot from his left boot.

Arsenal pushed hard for the all-important equalizer and almost got it when Giroud was clear on goal. Nonetheless, Giroud’s shot hit the post but he got a second bite of the cherry when Walcott chipped the ball delicately to his path, and the rest they say, was history.

Giroud powers in his second goal

At 3 – 3, the game opened up and it was glaring to know that the next goal was going to be the sucker punch.

Uncharacteristically, Bacary Sagna gave the ball away further up the pitch which inadvertently led to a Fulham counter attack but Mannone did well to save Ruiz’s shot. Cazorla followed Sagna’s footsteps in losing the ball and had Laurent Koscielny to thank, as the French defender made a  last-ditch tackle to keep his team in the contest.

The moment of inevitability arrived when Podolski was substituted for the returning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain that received a rousing ovation as he stepped into the pitch. Out of the blue, Giroud made a slalom run from midfield and fired a goal-bound shot that was saved by Schwarzer.

Giroud had the chance to grab his first Arsenal hat-trick when Sagna lofted a teasing cross for his compatriot but the unmarked forward missed his bearings and a great chance went begging.

Walcott appeared to be struggling late on and was replaced by Andrey Arshavin. Wenger shared after the game that it was a glute muscle problem and his involvement with the national team might be in jeopardy.

With basically the last attack of the game, Arshavin drifted in from the left before crossing a ball that met Sascha Riether’s arm, causing the ref to point to the spot. Two seasons ago, Phil Dowd got on my bad books when he awarded two fictitious penalties for Newcastle in that epic 4 – 4 draw but seeing him point to the spot on Arsenal’s favor made me scream so loud, it was probably heard on the Moon.

It’s one thing to get a late penalty and it’s another to convert it.

I can vividly remember a scenario in a World Cup qualifier a few years back in a game between Cameroon and Egypt were the Indomitable Lions won a penalty in the 95th minute. Pierre Wome missed it, much to the disgust of the irate Cameroonian fans that almost made an attempt on his life. The aftermath of the event caused him to retire from Cameroon.

Arteta was faced with the same situation and this happened,

Shame

Dowd rightly blew his whistle and two points went with the wind.

Mannone (6.5) made some decent saves but could have done better with the second goal. I’m glad that Szczesny is back.

Sagna (7.0) worked hard on the right and supported Walcott admirably in attack.

Vermaelen (6.5) was assured in defense but didn’t really provide any threat offensively.

Koscielny (7.0) made a series of last-ditch goal saving tackles in the course of the game.

Mertesacker (6.5) didn’t put half bad.

Arteta (6.0) will probably have nightmares after the game.

Coquelin (6.5) was industrious in midfield.

Cazorla (6.5) was a bit sloppy but he did well overall.

Walcott (8.5) supplied two assists and was a threat all game long.

Giroud (9.0) put up his best performance in an Arsenal shirt.

Podolski (7.5) scored a well-taken goal.

Ramsey (5.5) was peripheral and killed many attacks with his constant dwelling on the ball.

Ox (6.0) didn’t really stamp his authority on the game.

Arshavin (7.0) injected some life into Arsenal’s attack and won the penalty that would have been enough to grant his side all three points.

After another nerve-raking game were the Gunners failed to secure maximum points, Wenger was barraged with countless questions but I’ll share his quotes on Arteta’s missed penalty,

“We had a penalty to win but you cannot blame Arteta for that. It is part of the game. Who hasn’t missed a penalty? From there it finished 3-3 and the positives are that we can score goals now. The negatives are to concede three goals at home of course, and the chances we gave away, defensively it wasn’t an historical performance.”

The North London Derby comes up next at the Emirates and the memories of that enthralling 5 – 2 victory are still fresh in my head. I could really do with a win against that Andre Villas Boa Constrictor and his scum from White Shite Lane.

The voting for the Nigerian Blog Awards end today and I want to use this medium to express my gratitude to everyone that voted for Gooner Daily as the Best Sports blog in Nigeria.

The results will be announced on the 22nd of November, just four days before Gooner Daily’s second anniversary.

Happy Sunday.

Sayonara.

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Fulham Preview: Back to Winning Ways Please?

The recent weeks have been pretty tumultuous for everyone concerned with Arsenal football club. Despite the encouraging start to the season, things have gone downhill as the Gunners have struggled for form, goals and most importantly, Premier League points. Arsenal’s isn’t doing too well in the League form table, as Arsene Wenger’s men have managed two wins, a draw and three defeats in their last six games.

Fulham arrive at the Emirates with an appalling away record (22 losses and four draws in last 26 games) but their manager, Martin Jol, has questioned Arsenal’s ability to win trophies,

“If you look at the likes of Manchester City, with almost half a billion spent, Manchester United, it’s not easy nowadays. Can you expect a team like Arsenal to win things, with Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, all these clubs?

“Seven years? That’s a long time!” I don’t think you have to be angry. Frustrated is probably the better word.

“Angry with Wenger? Wenger created the new Arsenal, almost. Maybe, in three years’ time, they will hope and pray to get someone like Wenger.”

Well, this is coming from a manager that couldn’t hold on to a fourth place finish when he had it on a platter, before placing the blame on food poisoning on the final day of the season.

Thanks Yossi

Arsene Wenger on the other hand, didn’t waste his time talking about how Martin Jol can’t grow some hair in his skull if his life depended on it, but he took out time to speak about the attacking threat his team poses.

Wenger also spoke about his new signings, acknowledging their contributions to the squad thus far,

“The three buys we made have been, for me, very positive. Giroud is now starting to show that he can score goals too. Cazorla has played 17 games since the start of the season, and 17 games of complete intensity. Therefore he’s a little less fresh at the moment.

“Podolski works very hard, in a way that he was not completely used to, as he says himself. Maybe they are a bit less fresh but overall I believe they will do very well here with us.”

With Arsenal drifting further behind the leading pack, anything less than a home win against Fulham will be regarded as utter disappointment. Last season, Thomas Vermaelen suffered the ignominy of a calamitous own goal but he atoned for his gaff with a powerful header late on, sparing Arsenal’s blushes.

This season, Vermaelen hasn’t been making his gung-ho runs upfield but his defending hasn’t been good either. Many Gooners believe that his saving grace this season has been the armband given to him by Arsene Wenger because his poor form knows no bounds at the moment. After gifting van Persie a chance to inflict some damage on Arsenal, he capped it up with an embarrassing own goal against Schalke on Wednesday.

Despite being Arsenal’s best defender by a far mile last season, Laurent Koscielny has struggled to make it into the first team this season, courtesy of Vermaelen’s leadership status and Per Mertesacker’s fine form. Andre Santos’ torrid displays paved the way for Koscielny to get back into the team and the Frenchman has expressed his delight in playing first-team football again.

To team news, the usual suspects (Gibbs (thigh), Diaby (thigh), Rosicky (tendon), Gervinho (ankle), Fabianski (ankle)) are still out but it’s pleasing to know that Wojciech Szczesny is on the road to full fitness after playing 90 minutes for the Under-21’s in the 2 – 1 loss to West Ham’s Under-21s .

With Szczesny’s imminent return to the team, Wenger has admitted that Vito Mannone’s form could force him into an interesting decision,

“Vito will play on Saturday. When he is fully fit and Wojciech is fully fit we will see. Wojciech is No 1 but I think Vito has handled the situation very well.”

Moving over to the defense, I have a hunch that Andre Santos might be drafted back into the team, which will ultimately bring an end to Koscielny’s hopes of starting today. Bacary Sagna will continue on the right ahead of Carl Jenkinson, and the right back hopes that Arsenal can impose themselves on Fulham. The Verm and BFG will start through the middle and the captain has spoken about the good fortunes of Arsenal’s strike duo, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott.

In midfield, Jack Wilshere will get some deserved rest thanks to his suspension but he has stated that competition for first-term berths will bring out the best in him. He also spoke about his surprise inclusion to the England squad, for a friendly against Sweden.

His absence, coupled with Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky still out injured will pave the way for either Aaron Ramsey or Francis Coquelin but in my honest opinion, I’d like to see the Frenchman get a shot against Fulham, which will give Mikel Arteta the license to drift forward a bit.

In attack, I’d expect Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski to play through the middle flanks, while Giroud would play behind the goal as the center forward.

It’s high time we return back to winning ways.

The North London Derby comes up after this game.

Sayonara

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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.

Sayonara

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