Arsenal vs. Fulham: The Big Question on Arsenal's Disappointing Loss
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Arsenal lose the first match of 2012.
While many Arsenal fans no doubt will be angered by this loss, there's the argument that in football, you can't win them all. This is true and considerate, but nonetheless, a big question underlies this match.
In my preview of the match, I thought Arsenal's likely midfield dominance would force Fulham into a defensive shell of two banks of four men behind the ball. This turned out not to be case. While maintaining their customary defensive discipline, Fulham opted to use their home advantage and play attacking football.
Arsenal did well to force issues in the first 25 minutes. They got the reward for their enterprise when Koscieny nodded home a 21st minute opener. Although Arsenal's dominance somewhat tapered away in the remainder of the first half, they still controlled the game, giving little ground to the hosts.
This, though, is where the good news ends.
And so the big question comes: Since Arsenal played their first choice of players for most of the match, why did they decide it'd be best to sit back and defend as early as the first minute of the second half?
Here, then, is why I have referenced my preview of the match.
My preview has turned out to be an ironic projection of what actually happened in the match. Instead of Arsenal playing to their strength and keeping possession, they decided to cede it and sit back behind the ball, the reverse of what I thought would happen.
Was fatigue a factor in this decision, or was it the result of seeing lesser teams frustrate their stronger opponents in the last few days, using this tactic to take valuable points?
Appeal to fatigue, though, is bound to sound hollow in the face of the fact that Fulham have had as busy a schedule as well.
I cannot therefore understand this decision, even if I'm not at the moment banging the table (or something) or seething in rage.
I can't understand it because for much of the second half, Aaron Ramsey remained on the pitch, beside Robin Van Persie who played the full 90 minutes.
Why keep these men on the pitch, Van Persie especially, if you intend to be defensive? Wouldn't it have been better to rest Van Persie if you intended to use this strategy?
Defending a slim lead is always risky. In this case it backfired.
What is most worrying though, is that Arsenal haven't been at their best (at all) in the last five matches even though they have played their first 11.
This, therefore, is the bigger question. What does this particular fact say about the way forward?
As a fan, I can only ask the questions? I trust that Arsene Wenger and his assistants are worried about this question and are looking fast for the solution.
Despair, frustration or triumph? I had asked in my preview of this match.
So, it wasn't a triumph, it was despair in the end. The frustration crept in in the final seven minutes of the match.
Fourth place on the table was just a wicked teaser. My projection of sixth position on the table for Arsenal at the beginning of 2012 is about to come to pass. I'm not saying it with a smile.
Oh, and there's no shopping for dresses and tuxedos on eBay; it doesn't seem likely now, does it?
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