This Arsenal team, eh? They really do put themselves, and us, through the wringer in nearly every game. A hard-fought three points, that I think we just about deserved, but it won’t have done anybody’s blood pressure any good.
Too often at home we’ve been guilty of a sluggish start but yesterday was quite the opposite. For the first half an hour we were thrilling, inventive, quick and direct. We made chances, we pressed Fulham all over the pitch, snapped into tackles and looked as if we could score at any time. Arshavin had a chance with a volley that Schwarzer saved well, then the Russian played in Nasri but he toe-poked it just wide.
The next time the two combined it brought the opening goal. Arshavin played a ball across the box to Nasri, left free by the Fulham defence for some reason, and he stepped inside one challenge, then another leaving the defenders on their arses, before slamming home with his left foot. An outstanding goal from a player in fantastic form.
And we continued to create chances, the best of which fell to Alex Song but with nobody anywhere near him he put it wide from about 8 yards. A really bad miss and you just worried that with the fragilities in this team that we might regret not going further ahead. And so it was. Fulham tried time and again to get Kamara behind our defence and to be fair to him he did the getting behind bit very well, it was the whole staying onside thing he couldn’t manage.
Then a simple ball over the top and a lack of communication between the centre-halves resulted in a clash of heads. Well, it was the top of Squillaci’s head and Koscielny’s face. It left the latter dazed and confused, so confused he forgot to go down. Had he done so I think the ref would have stopped play for the injury, because he didn’t we can’t complain. From then on though we didn’t defend it well at all. Song went to ground trying to tackle Dempsey and when the American clipped it through to where Koscielny should have been it was a simple enough finish for Kamara.
The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of us, as is our wont, and Fulham had the best of the rest of the first half. Kamara got behind us again, he was offside but it wasn’t given, and forced Fabianski into a good save, and instead of going in at half-time comfortably ahead we found ourselves level and somewhat punch drunk.
In the second half there were chances at both ends. Rosicky fired a volley just wide, then quick feet from Arshavin were matched by Schwarzer as he saved the Russian’s effort at the near post. Up the other end van Persie cleared one off the line, Gera had an overhead kick and it was hard to tell which way the next goal was going to go. At times like this you need your important players to take the game by the scruff of the neck and Nasri did just that.
He played a ball into Arshavin who gave it to van Persie on the edge of the box. I thought he was going to shoot himself but he saw Nasri continuing his run, played a lovely ball into his path and the Frenchman went through the Fulham defence, round the keeper before pirouetting to finish and make it 2-1. It was another brilliant goal, the ball was on the very edge of his control from the moment he got into the box and it’s a testament to his ability that he was able to score it. Had Lionel Messi scored those goals yesterday there’d be pundit jizz everywhere.
There was still time for Chamakh to fire wide after great work by Clichy, Etuhu shot just wide after a corner scramble and Fabianski was called on again to make a very good save from Gera, but in the end we hung on, got the three points, took advantage of Chelsea’s draw and went back to the top of the table.
Afterwards Arsene said:
We needed not only quality but sprit and resilience today and we got it. We scored two exceptional goals from Samir that were a combination of touch, intelligence, special talent and calmness.
Rightly enough he praised the contribution of Nasri who now has 11 goals in all competitions. He’s become a vital component of this team and while we could always see the talent and ability he lacked consistency until now. He’s just a pleasure to watch. Also up for major props was Johan Dourou who made a big difference when he came on to replace Koscielny. The boss said:
He is doing very well. He has been out for a year and as you have noticed I have rotated him a little bit. We do not want to lose him and a guy that has been out for a year you cannot play him three games a week. From the start of the season he has gone from strength to strength and today, in the difficult period when we had to defend in the air, he was dominant
One of the issues I had with Djourou as a centre-half was his reluctance to attack the ball. He had a tendency to let it bounce which is just not the way to do it, but yesterday he went for everything, and won most of them too. I think the combination of Djourou and Squillaci is the best one we have at the moment but obviously there are reasons beyond form for the rotation. Nevertheless, the Swiss will rightly feel hard done by if he doesn’t keep his place now. He looks fit, sharp and adds physical presence to our defence.
Some other thoughts – without wanting to piss on anyone’s chips and bearing in mind that we are top of the league, it’s still worth looking at areas in which we can improve. The reaction to the goal, for example. We seem to react to every slap in the face like we’ve just been kicked in the balls. You could see yesterday how badly we were affected, it takes us too long to get our heads up again. I’m sure the players feel the same sense of inevitability when we concede but they have to remember it’s not the end of the world and they have to react better and faster.
The issue of our defensive midfielder, or lack of it, is worrying now. Alex Song didn’t have a great game yesterday at all. The miss was terrible, his passing was all over the place, but what was most frustrating was the shirking of his main duty which is to protect the back four. This is what he did last season with great effect, he sat back, let those in front of him do the creating and scoring, while he broke up play and shielded his defence. Simple but effective. I know he’s made some contributions this season in terms of goalscoring but we need him to revert a little bit.
This season he’s caught too far forward too often. So much so that I’m inclined to think it’s because he’s been given the freedom to do that by the manager. In which case I’d like the manager to reign him in a little bit and remind him that on his day he’s a fine defensive midfielder but will never be a Nasri or a Fabregas. The defence yesterday needed more protection, Song did not do enough in that regard. Whether it’s his own desire to be Maradona or the manager’s willingness to tolerate it, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is Fulham exploited that yesterday and better teams will have much more success.
Anyway, we should focus on the fact that we are top of the league. It’s a nice place to be and with our next league game away at Old Trafford it could all get very interesting indeed.
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And that’s about that. Have a table topping Sunday, back tomorrow.