Arsenal produced yet another goalless draw in their quest to keep hold of their Champions League place but credit must go to Fulham who stretched play as they looked to exploit the Gunners’ weaknesses and negate their strengths.
Arsenal 0-0 Fulham
Not many would have expected Fulham to be set up against Arsenal using one of the very fundamentals of Total Football – to stretch the field as wide as possible when in possession to retain the ball. Okay, it may be an over-exaggeration to compare the two styles as there was none of the interchanging and constant pressuring but the Cottagers did stretch play in a different style to limit Arsenal. Not yet have we seen the Gunners so physically tired come the final whistle as they were today; they were not able to get anywhere near the Fulham players as they stroked the ball around with ease in injury time. Nor where they able to mount any serious danger in the dying moments.
Credit must go to Roy Hodgson for coming to the Emirates and not looking to sit back like countless others have before them this season. By utilising Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson on the shoulders of the Arsenal defence it both allowed Fulham to be more potent on the break while increasing the workload for Arsenal in trying to prise open their defence. When the Gunners attacked Fulham defended on the edge of their own box and with their forwards so high, penned the Arsenal defence back halfway inside their own half instead of pushing up to the halfway line. Gallas and Toure where understandably cautious also in not allowing space behind especially with Johnson’s pace. It was a masterstroke of a tactic by Hodgson and made it seem there was no real cover from Denilson and Diaby because of the large gap.
The only thing missing was the goal and while they had their fair share of chances the Gunners defence did well to deny any real shots on target though two went just wide. Arsenal on the other hand had the best chances of an even game; Van Persie this time the main culprit missing two great headed chances. First Schwarzer tipped one which was fairly straight but powerful while the other hit the outside of the post.
Looking at those on the pitch, it seemed Arsenal required someone to get hold of the match and make something happen. Diaby made some good tackles and some strong bursts but once he got in to the final third, wasn’t very decisive while Nasri and Denilson were a pale of their midweek selves. In the program notes Fabregas said of Arsenal; “One of the reasons we haven’t been as dangerous lately is because our first thoughts have often been to pass the ball back. We have to do the opposite. We have to remember that we are wearing one of the most important shirts in the world and be responsible for that, not scared.”
It looked increasingly obvious Arshavin was the player Arsenal needed to get more on the ball. The Russian delivered the cross for Van Persie’s first headed chance and also played a sumptious through ball for the Dutchman but who was denied by the Fulham keeper. Arshavin can produce moments of magic but the pace of the game still seems beyond him at the moment; a full pre-season at the club in the summer would have been ideal. Arsene Wenger tried everything in his power to make something happen; the changing of the formation throughout the match, Eboue at right back and Vela on the left but still couldn’t make the difference.
Arsenal have the talent but psychologically it seems they are not in the correct mind-frame. Confidence can make a massive difference and could be the decisive factor in whether it’s a win, draw or lose. Let’s keep the faith in get behind the Gooners.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna (Eboue 70), Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Arshavin, Denilson, Diaby, Nasri, Van Persie, Vela (Bendtner 63).
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Ramsey, Song Billong, Djourou, Gibbs.
Fulham: Schwarzer, Baird (Stoor 46), Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Davies, Murphy, Etuhu, Dempsey (Gera 88), Johnson, Zamora.
Subs Not Used: Zuberbuhler, Nevland, Kamara, Dacourt, Kallio.
Ref: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).
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