Arsenal’s title hopes suffered an early setback last season when Arsene Wenger’s men made the short trip across London to Craven Cottage. A Brede Hangeland header sealed three points for the home side.
The subsequent return match at the Emirates saw the Gunners frustrated once more. Roy Hodgson’s side clung on for a 0-0 draw in a match which saw Fulham enjoy a fair share of possession.
Arsenal suffered two setbacks in Manchester. Successive losses to City and United saw the Gunners fall off the pace. Subsequently three points were essential from tonight’s clash with Fulham to keep the early pace-setters in their sights.
Both teams are good passing sides who like to utilise possession effectively. Arsenal received the welcome boost of Andrey Arshavin’s return to the starting line-up. Meanwhile Hodgson persevered with the same team that limped to a 2-1 defeat at Molineux last week.
The game started at a rapid pace. The turnover of possession was regular, as both sides tried to mount attacks through opposing defences. However neither side were able to establish a foothold in the match.
Zoltan Gera crafted the first opening of the match. The Hungarian’s cross was met by the rising Andy Johnson, whose header forced a Mannone into an outstreched save. The Italian quickly rose to his feet to block Clint Dempsey’s rebound effort.
Fulham threatened again shortly before half time. Johnson delicately flicked the ball on to Gera. The midfielder strode past the Arsenal defence but his low drive was palmed wide by Mannone.
The Craven Cottage side limited Arsenal solely to long-range efforts. Van Persie struck an isolated figure up front with Fabregas failing to make an impact on the game.
Fulham were left to rue the chances which befell them during the first half.
On 52 minutes the away side took an unlikely lead. Sloppy passing characterised a lacklustre Arsenal in the first period. However their first penetrating move of the game was enough to slice open the Fulham defence.
Song’s interception found Bendtner. The Dane switched the ball to Fabregas with the Spaniard promptly angling a floated pass to Van Persie. A divine first touch saw the Dutchman escape the attentions of Hangeland, poking home a right-footed finish just as the Norwegian was diving in.
Moments later Arsenal could have doubled their lead. Van Persie’s weighted pass played in Bendtner. The Dane rifled a shot low towards the left corner but Schwarzer managed to produce a vital save.
Fulham immediately counter attacked as the hinges of both defences began to come off.
A Zamora cross found Johnson who glanced a header towards goal. The attempt was saved by Mannone with Dempsey flashing the rebound across the face of the goal.
On 67 minutes Zamora had Fulham’s best opportunity to level the scoring. He found himself one on one with Mannone but the striker’s feeble attempt was blocked by a last-ditch tackle from William Gallas.
Fulham’s number 25 came even closer ten minutes later. Konchesky’s whipped free kick was met by Zamora, who headed downwards at goal, but the Arsenal goalkeeper was on hand once again to deny the frustrated striker.
Despite the increased pressure from the home side towards the end which continued deep into added time, Arsenal showed great maturity and tenacity as they clung on to their narrow advantage.
Arsene Wenger will have been pleased by the battling qualities his team showed in a game which could have easily seen the away side succumb to the Craven Cottage inferno.
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