Monday, May 20, 2024

Fulham 0-1 Arsenal: Three points, that’s all that matters

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In the 11+ years I’ve been writing Arseblog, and about Arsenal, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such an outpouring of anger … after a win. Yes, there have been days when people’s frustration has gotten the better of them, but usually it’s when we drop points, lose cup finals or important games, or find our season over midway through November.

That, I understand, but the vitriol and viciousness yesterday of some commentators is staggering. I don’t think there’s a single person out there who would say we were at our best yesterday, nobody would dare suggest we played well, but at this point of the season there’s nothing to be taken from a sterling performance coupled with a poor result. It is all about getting points under our belts, and we did that. Being glad one of our players is suspended for three games, in a position where we’ve bemoaned our lack of strength all season, is an opinion so stupid it could take human shape as Joey Barton.

If you want my brutally honest assessment, I think we’re a pretty average team that doesn’t play particularly attractive football any more, we have certain players whose contributions are far less than they should be, the squad is missing the kind of quality to win things, and we are where we are in the league for good reason; not bad luck or anything like it.

But we’re also a team that has been working extremely hard in recent weeks, that has knuckled down to overcome some of its flaws, that has kept probably as many clean sheets in the past month as we have most of the rest of the season, and a team that has taken 19 points from the last 21 available in the league. In the grand scheme of things, there’s plenty to discuss and talk about; there are obviously improvements that can be made to the first team and the squad in general, but I think it redefines the word churlish to throw your toys out of the pram after we’ve won … away from home. We were poor against 10 men, so what?

Frankly, at this stage of the season I care little for how we perform as long as we win. That’s the position we’re in, like it or not. Other teams are criticised for winning ugly, when we do it it seems to be a cardinal sin. And not reacting like a spoilt child doesn’t mean you’re blind to our problems or that you think everything is A-OK, it just means you can appreciate that right now, it’s far better for us to play like crap and take three points than be tippy-tappy, flicky-flacky, pass masters who draw or lose.

That Arsenal’s two best players yesterday were goalscorer Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny tells you something about a game in which we played against 10 men for 80+ minutes. Fulham looked more dangerous than us throughout, we just did not click from an attacking point of view. Olivier Giroud had another frustrating game but also received little service. At one point I was playing Where’s Walco, trying to figure out which defender Theo was hiding behind, while Santi Cazorla was only marginally better than his corners which were, being brutally honest, so far below the standard you’d expect from a professional footballer of his talent that I just don’t have the words to do them justice.

What was interesting was how the substitutions, designed, I’m sure, to spark a bit of life into us, completely changed the momentum of the game. We were most certainly on top, if completely nonthreatening, with plenty of possession. We spread the ball well from one side to the other, Fulham worked hard and kept a good shape which made it difficult for us (on top of our own performance issues), but when Podolski and Wilshere replaced Rosicky and Walcott it was like somebody flicked a switch.

For the final 15 minutes or so, they looked far more likely to score an equaliser than we did a second. Only for some good assistant refereeing by Sian Massey and it might have been worse, their ‘goal’ was rightly cancelled out for offside, but we were living dangerously. Mertesacker and Koscielny dealt with increasing Fulham pressure and even with a man advantage we couldn’t get back on top of the game.

The late dismissal of Giroud made me think it was going to be one of those days, but in the end we hung on, we took three points, we did what we had to do, and ultimately that’s all that counts at the end of 90 minutes. I’d much rather be here talking about how we played poorly and won than the alternative, and if results go our way today then this is a game we can rightly consign to history and never think of again.

With regard to the red cards, I thought the referee made absolutely the right decision with Sidwell. It was, in terms of the challenge, very similar to the one which broke Eduardo’s leg at Birmingham. I don’t believe it was malicious, but it was reckless and dangerous and the sending off was 100% correct. As for Giroud, I don’t think it would have been a red if a Fulham man hadn’t already been sent off. I can understand why it was given, under the circumstances, but it’s still a bit harsh for me.

Assuming that we don’t appeal and accept the three match ban, it does leave us with some tweaking to do to the team for the next number of fixtures. I talked this week about how we need another striker for next season, we don’t really have one now. Podolski is an option, of course, but he looks genuinely unfit to me, the ankle injury he’s been nursing all season seemed obvious yesterday when he was given a decent pass to run on to but outpaced by one of Senderos or Hangeland. That’s not a 100% fit Podolski. Still, it’s something to keep the discussion going this week as we prepare for the visit of United next Sunday.

The players celebrated at the end yesterday, not because they played well, but because they knew how tough it had been and because, more than anything, they knew that simply had to win. Sometimes it just don’t matter how you get there, once you get there.

Till tomorrow.

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