Fulham vs. Arsenal: Rating All the Arsenal Players
Steve Sidwell was rightly sent off after just 12 minutes, cynically planting his studs on Mikel Arteta's ankle. Game over right?
Despite the ludicrous amount of possession that Arsenal enjoyed for much of the game, they could never break Fulham down. The Cottagers had a one-man disadvantage for almost the entire game, but an equal amount of their shots were on target.
Only a mistake from a very well-organized Fulham side delivered Arsenal the goal they clung to during the second half.
Theo Walcott, who took almost all of Arsenal's free-kicks, curled a good ball into the box from the right side, which Laurent Koscielny headed down and across goal. The defenders lost track of Per Mertesacker, who tapped it in with his head from point-blank range.
It might have been the eventual winner, but Arsenal had to work remarkably hard to ensure that was the case. Arsene Wenger will not be happy with a remarkably tepid performance at such a crucial time of the season.
Still, three points are three points. Let's try to remember that as we evaluate every Arsenal player.
Jack Wilshere: 6
Came on in the 71st minute for Theo Walcott and had a couple good moments in midfield. He still doesn't look back to his best, though, and that's worrying for Arsenal.
Lukas Podolski: 6
Arrived at the same time as Wilshere and only got a couple touches as Arsenal retreated progressively deeper into their own half.
Podolski really should be starting, though. His incisiveness and propensity for one-twos would really have helped the Gunners break Fulham down. Take this as a plea, Arsene.
Thomas Vermaelen: N/A
Wojciech Szczesny: 7
He had way too much to do but did his job very well. There were a couple scares here and there, mostly from Dimitar Berbatov, and he always seemed alert and ready to make a save.
Szczesny was really let off the hook, however, when he parried a very dangerous free-kick right back into play, and only the poor timing of Alexander Kacaniklic's run saved Arsenal from potentially dropping two points.
Bacary Sagna: 6.5
He did his defensive job well, using his strength to thwart more than one Fulham attack. He was rarely called upon to do anything decisive at the other end of the pitch but got a couple decent crosses into the box now and again.
Per Mertesacker: 7
Though Mertesacker's finish on the only goal of the game was as simple as can be, he still deserves commendation for being in the right place at the right time and cleverly losing his marker to tap in Laurent Koscielny's header.
In defense, the German was typically solid, making a number of good stops with his head and feet. One lunging clearance near the end of the game saved a potential goal.
Laurent Koscielny: 6.5
The Frenchman usually played assuredly, but he had his moments, letting an attacker pass from time to time and botching a clearance in the second half that Mertesacker had to deal with.
Nacho Monreal: 6
This rating might be a little generous, as Monreal will probably yield his place to Kieran Gibbs when Arsenal play Manchester United in their next game.
In fairness to Monreal, he had no help on the left wing for much of the game, as Santi Cazorla was sucked toward the middle of the pitch during every attack.
The Spaniard is a defensive left-back but could not really cover his area with much confidence. Many of Fulham's most dangerous breaks came down the left flank.
A couple of big tackles barely elevate his rating to a six.
Mikel Arteta: 6
I'm less inclined to make the "Arteta's a metronome, so don't expect his play to be exciting" argument today. The subtle nature of his game makes him difficult to rate, but I just did not see anything impressive against Fulham.
His passes, which often went sideways or backward, did little to break Arsenal's lackadaisical monotony. Perhaps moving Arteta further forward would do him good, but the Gunners have a surfeit of excellent players there already.
Aaron Ramsey: 7
Once again, Ramsey was one of Arsenal's only positive attacking forces and one of their best assets in defense.
The Welshman worked typically hard to get up the pitch and put in a shift in all areas. When the Gunners lost the ball, he was one of those who constantly ran his lungs out to get it back. That was one of the biggest factors that contributed to Arsenal having 71 percent of the ball.
Tomas Rosicky: 6
Forgive me, but I'm having difficulty remembering a single meaningful contribution that Rosicky made to the game, either positively or negatively. Such was the ineffectiveness of the hitherto rejuvenated Czech on the day.
Santi Cazorla: 6.5
Like Ramsey, Cazorla was one of the only players in a red and white shirt who seemed eager to actually advance the ball forward, rather than simply passing it sideways.
But he was not nearly as sharp as he has been in his past few games (during which he delivered man of the match performances), and his lack of positional discipline sorely hurt Arsenal's attack.
In fairness, he is much more an attacking midfielder than a left winger. Yet Arsene Wenger insists upon keeping both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski on the bench so that Cazorla can play out of position and constantly drift to where he is actually is meant to play—midfield.
It's time for a tactical switch.
Theo Walcott: 6.5
Walcott never really got to use his pace against a Fulham side that dropped back and let Arsenal have the ball. He is much more effective when Arsenal can counterattack against a more ambitious side but never got that opportunity.
While I still disagree with Wenger's decision to give him the liberty to take free-kicks when Cazorla and Arteta are on the pitch, some of his balls into the box—most notably the one that led to Arsenal's goal—were quality.
Olivier Giroud: 4.5
The Frenchman only has one game left to play this season after foolishly putting his foot above the ball in a 50-50 challenge in the 90th minute.
It wasn't even in a remotely threatening area.
Giroud now faces an automatic three-game suspension for his first red card in English football, and he'll only return for Arsenal's last game of the season at Newcastle.
Before his ill-judgment, Giroud was not very effective. He never really threatened Mark Schwarzer's goal and spent much of his day jogging into disadvantageous spaces.
Arsenal will have to make their final push for the top four without him.
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