Jan 2nd, 2012 by 'holic
Whatever anybody attempts to write in the aftermath of a match such as the one we have just witnessed at the Cottage is going to get a mixed reaction. I already know this one will because I have seen what others are venting online right now.
The old saying, a game of two halves, was created out of a game such as this. We started with just about as strong an eleven as we can muster, given the absence of all four full-backs, Thomas Vermaelen, and Jack Wilshere. For forty-five minutes we looked lively against a Fulham side who contributed to a hugely entertaining eighty minutes. After the break we have to accept, for whatever reason, that Fulham were the better side.
Let me acknowledge at the start that Fulham deserved something from the game for their spirited performance. Let me also say that once again the course of a match was decided by some significant refereeing decisions. I’m sorry Gary Neville, but saying you sympathise with Lee Probert having seen the incident from a hundred yards away in normal speed doesn’t wash with me. Probert was on the spot and should have seen, and probably heard, the contact when the otherwise impressive Senderos clipped Gervinho. I think he was just as negligent when Robin van Persie was sandwiched in the box in the second-half. It is not sour grapes, just a matter of record that we have now had five very decent penalty claims denied in just three matches.
We were ahead when Fulham left Laurent Koscielny unmarked following a corner, and Aaron Ramsey’s pinpoint cross demanded a finish from the central defender. Throughout the half, prompted by the energetic and artful Mikel Arteta, we probed and occasionally unlocked the Fulham defence. Had the wide men brought there shooting boots with them we could arguably have put the game out of the home sides reach, but to their credit Fulham not only survived the storm brewing in front of them, but they also countered with a couple of decent efforts themselves.
What happened after the break will take some explanation. Fulham came out clearly sharper, quicker, and better organised. Twice Sidwell went close against his former side, and every attempt to relieve the pressure seemed to end with van Persie being manhandled out of the way, with no reward. All around him though the effort was sagging. In an attempt to inject some energy and enthusiasm the boss sent on Tomas Rosicky and Yossi Benayoun for Walcott and Gervinho, but the pressure remained firmly on the makeshift defence.
The match turned ten minutes from time when Johan Djourou, already booked for a rash challenge from behind, put his hand on Zamora’s shoulder. The crafty Zamora went down dramatically, and Lee Probert was left, frankly, with little option but to award a second yellow. Annoyed as I was with the official for just about everything else he did, he probably got that right. I am more annoyed at Djourou for rather foolishly weakening our extremely limited defensive resources further.
Just over five minutes remained when Arsenal finally wilted under the onslaught. Wojciech Szczesny didn’t get a strong-enough hand to a corner, and when it was returned into the box Sidwell was unmarked and headed home from point-blank range. Worse was to follow in the second of three added minutes. There is a reason Squillaci hasn’t been seen much this season. A teenage midfielder was preferred to him as a starter at full-back this evening. We saw why as he headed across his own goal to the unmarked Zamora and that, as they say, was that.
What to make of it all. Well, again I reiterate that Fulham deserved something out of the game. They did well to stay in contention when we were clearly the better side in the first-half, and dominated the second with some decent football of their own. I have no problem with them or their tactics. My views on the standard of all Premiership referees these days is well known. They turned professional in order to improve the situation, but I’m convinced it has got worse. I was once not keen on the introduction of technology, but now I think it is essential, and the sooner the better.
But what of Arsenal. There has been much criticism of individuals tonight. Some of it justified, and some of it harsh. It is easy to overlook tonight the incredible effort that got us into the top four at the turn of the year without any recognised full-backs, and without arguably our most creative midfielder. However I cannot deny we seemed to run out of fuel in the second-half tonight, and it is understandably frustrating that we have not capitalised on a wonderful set of results for us at the weekend.
We have a week to refuel the squad before taking on Leeds United in the FA Cup. Last year showed that multiple changes in the Cup ties can make us more vulnerable than we need to be. The skipper should probably get a rest, and I would suggest the second-half tonight suggests that Arteta could do with a short breather. In the coming week though we need some defensive reinforcements to arrive, be it on loan or otherwise. At the moment Squillaci is in the frame for a start. We have the resources to prevent that. Let’s use them.
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