Finding the right words to cover that performance is an impossible task. Every journo and blogger will be called out by half of their casual readership for being too negative or bottling it. So where do I begin.
“The three points are everything and how we get them doesn’t matter at this stage of the season.”
Only half true, for me. Certainly extending the gap to our closest rivals was a must today, and tonight we can take pleasure from a five point lead over our nearest and dearest. Points are worth much more than games in hand, particularly when those extra fixtures are against Manchester City and Chelsea. What we also needed was not to lose our only true central striker for a foolish challenge.
Andre Marriner set the standard as early as twelve minutes in when Steve Sidwell arrived late, high, and out of control on Mikel Arteta. It was a clear red and at that moment eleven professionals should have known instinctively not to give the man with the whistle an opportunity to level things up.
Fast forward to a nervous closing phase and Olivier Giroud’s ill-judged challenge on Manolev. Yes, I have seen the arguments that it was harsh, that Giroud had played the ball first before his foot rolled over the top. I understand it was a debatable call, so people are debating. At the end of the day though this was a risky challenge that didn’t need to be made in that area of the pitch. Giroud did catch the Fulham lad on the follow through, and I’m pretty sure most referees would have accepted the same invitation to appease the locals.
It was I’m sure no more than misplaced eagerness from the big man, but of all the positions for us to lose a player for three matches, that was probably the worst. We have nobody else who can do the job that Giroud does, and so we will have to adjust our shape for some vital matches ahead. Theo Walcott into the middle would make some sense if he were playing the way he was before he got his new deal. That would create an opportunity for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right. Lukas Podolski up top is the other option we have tried rarely this season, but his experience might just swing it his way.
For all of the frustration at the late card and our inability to convert superior possession (62% according to the BBC) into control of the match, there were some real plus points. One would most definitely be the clean sheet, for few would doubt Fulham looked the more dangerous when attacking, ten men or not. Wojciech Szczesny may have had Sian Massey to thank for an offside flag when he parried a free-kick straight into the path of Manolev. He also produced some fine saves and none better than when our old friend Berbatov was put clear in the twentieth minute.
In front of him Per Mertesacker was outstanding. He may have secured the points when applying the finishing touch to Laurent Koscielny’s goal-bound header as the opening half limped to a finish, but his defensive qualities were to the fore as we escaped a tricky away game with those all important points. There is no doubt in my mind that he was the man of the match by some distance.
For all that we can see that one or two key players are not currently at their best we must also acknowledge a run of six unbeaten Premiership encounters that have yielded sixteen out of a possible eighteen points. We are the form team in the battle for those top four places even if the last two games have shown we are having problems opening up well drilled and combative defences. With Manchester United up next that is something we will be working on at Shenley this week.
For now I think I will just have a quiet tipple and thank our lucky stars. Lady Luck appears to have taken a bit of a shine to us.
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