Arsene Wenger came up against a manager that had never managed a win against him in his Tottenham days and Arsenal’s starting lineup looked good enough to win the game, on paper at least. The boss made two changes from the squad that was very impressive in midweek against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Johan Djourou deputized for Laurent Koscielny and the much talked about Andrey Arshavin replaced Gervinho.
The game against Fulham was a frustrating affair from start to finish but there were moments of quality from time to time. Fulham almost drew first blood when Bryan Ruiz made a fool out of Andre Santos before sending the ball into the danger area. Djourou provided adequate cover in the heart of the defense to execute an inch-perfect goal-saving tackle.
Alex Song teed up Robin van Persie and the Arsenal captain wasted no time before setting up Aaron Ramsey, but Mark Schwarzer made a great save from the top drawer. Theo Walcott rolled back the years to make a jinking run that was reminiscent of the assist he gave Emmanuel Adebayor in March 2008 at Anfield. The winger ran a great length of the field only to pass the ball to Ramsey that fed the ball to the birds in the sky.
Andre Santos jousted forward and made a Samba-like Marseille Roulette but he lost the ball in the process. The full-back charged forward to win the ball back but his final pass was disappointing because Schwarzer was there to mop up play. Moussa Dembele stung Wojciech Szczesny’s hands with a left-footed shot and Per Mertesacker had the last attack of the first half when he nodded Mikel Arteta’s free kick wide.
Arsenal was the brighter side at the start of the second half with Theo Walcott giving John Arne Riise a torrid time before drilling a cross that brought confusion between Phillippe Senderos and Mark Schwarzer, but the Fulham back line dealt with the threat. Robin van Persie lit the Emirates alight when he received a pass from Arshavin, shimmied the center back before firing a goal-bound shot that beat Schwarzer hands down, but Chris Baird was in the right place to clear the ball off the line.
Against the run of play, Fulham went ahead when Arteta lost the ball in the midfield and a cross-field ball was attacked by Riise, but Thomas Vermaelen unfortunately lashed at the ball to beat Szczesny at his near post.
Ramsey was suspect for producing complacent moments while Arshavin’s performance on the field for 75 minutes was likened to the horror movie Saw VI so Wenger responded by bringing on Abou Diaby to replace Ramsey while Gervinho came on for Mertesacker.
In my opinion, bringing on Diaby was a very wrong move because of his lackadaisical attitude in his play especially in pivotal moments of a game, and Arsenal was made to suffer the Diabytes Syndrome later on in the match. There was a point in time when Diaby was with the ball at the edge of the area with teammates to feed the ball to at both sides, but the lanky Frenchman chose to dwell on the ball only to lose it later. Abou Diaby at his frustrating best.
Djourou made a goal-bound header, but Schwarzer popped up with the goods again for Fulham. Van Persie had two half chances that didn’t threaten the Fulham goal. His free kick sailed effortlessly wide while his shot from Andre Santos’ cross was launched into orbit.
When it seemed as if it was going to be one of those days for Arsenal, Vermaelen was seen surging forward in a buildup play and it was really soothing to see him on the end of Theo Walcott’s cross to bring Arsenal back in the match.
If Arsenal had lost the match by a lone goal, my headline would have been “The Verminator becomes Arsenal’s terminator,” but it’s heartwarming to know that he cleaned up the mess he made in the other end of the pitch.
Szczesny (6.5) was relatively untroubled but I felt that his concentration wasn’t fully in check when Vermaelen conceded the own goal because the ball wasn’t really fast.
Djourou (6.5) didn’t offer much in attack as you would expect from a center back playing on the flanks but he was solid defensively.
Andre Santos (7.5) worked tirelessly on the left wing to play as a full-back as well as the left winger for Arsenal because Arshavin was missing in action.
Vermaelen (7.0) did the double in both goal posts. :D
Mertesacker (6.5) was steady at the back.
Song (7.5) covered a lot of distance on the pitch and did very well to help his teammates that were out of position most times.
Arteta (6.0) disappointed me a bit and compounded it by losing the ball that led to Fulham’s opener.
Ramsey (6.0) lacked the spark he was renowned for and missed a few chances for Arsenal.
Arshavin (5.0) put up another putrid performance and Gervinho’s 15-minute cameo was two times better than his 75-minute outing.
Walcott (8.0) was a constant thorn to Riise and showed good dribbling skills as well as the assist for Arsenal’s equalizer.
Van Persie (7.5) worked really hard for his team and was unlucky not to do what he has become renowned for.
Gervinho (7.5) ran at the Fulham defense with real drive and positive intent unlike the man he replaced that was more or less a peripheral figure for one hour 15 minutes.
Diaby (6.0) held on to the ball too much when he was supposed to feed a teammate. In my opinion, I would have prepared to see Tomas Rosicky. Oh Arsene!
Chamakh (6.55) had no real attacking impact on the game but showed his work rate to win some balls in midfield.
Arsenal’s draw against Fulham has dented the impressive run that saw the Gunners win eight of their last nine games. It’s true that players are meant to rest in some games, but Arsene Wenger of all people should know that you should never change a “winning team” especially when they are all fit.
The game against Fulham was of utmost importance to Arsenal because the club is fighting hard to break into the top four. I wouldn’t have had any trouble if Arshavin started in the Carling Spoon quarterfinal against Manchester City.
Gervinho, Walcott and van Persie had built up an amazing chemistry and van Persie has benefited from the consistent services of these wingers. Arshavin came back to the fold and disrupted that mojo, and it’s really sad to know how he has become the shadow of the attacking midfielder that took the world by storm years ago.
I hope he gets his act right soon enough because he’s not getting any younger.
Thomas thanks for cleaning up your mess. At least Arsenal is still unbeaten.