Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday January 20 2008
Fulham away is one of my favourite fixtures of the season. Taking away last season's incredibly forgettable fixture there, Fulham has always been a decent day out. Craven Cottage is a ground steeped in the quaintest surroundings, placed as it is in the mege bucks district of London. As ever, our day began at the Eight Bells pub behind Putney Bridge tube station, which was not only entirely taken over by Arsenal fans, but two of the barmaids were even decked out in Arsenal shirts. Talk about hospitality! They also have an ale on tap called T.E.A, I'm something of an ale connoisseur and I can tell you that this stuff is freaking divine. Then the walk to the stadium between the beautiful Georgian houses and surrounding tennis courts takes you into the park. Fulham don't have any ordinary burger van outisde the ground, they have an enormous barbecue in the park with burgers that amount to an orgasm for the taste buds. So having adequately demolished the waistline with a few jars and a burger, we made our way into the Putney End to take up our £45(!!!) seats. Another of Craven Cottage's quaint intracacies is that you can see the River Thames from the away end.
As is the norm with London away games nowadays, the atmosphere was utterly electric. The Putney End stand is a steep structure which reverberates noise throughout the whole stadium, and the atmospehere was relentless from the travelling hoards. In fact, I was left to ponder the irony of paying £45(!!!!!) for a seat that I didn't use once! The game began in a fairly patchy fashion, with neither side really stamping their authority on it, until midway through the first half. Fabregas began to find space and time in the midfeild. Hleb did not need to concern himself with finsing space, because every time a Fulham player occupied any in his vaccinity, he simply shimmied around them like a training ground traffic cone. Sometimes pigeon footing around three and four players at once, I'm a little young to have watched George Best, but I can see a validity in the comparisons based on footage I have been shown. Tune in next week as Hleb beats three players before removing his boot and showing it to the bamboozled defender.
On 19 minutes the imperious Rosicky forrayed forward down the left and tucked a disguised pass into the path of Clichy, his left wing cross was beautifully flighted and Adebayor leapt and hung effortlessly in the air, before placing a firm header past the stranded Niemi. It was pleasing to see a pinpoint Clichy cross as his delivery looks at times to be his only hubris. Whilst it is not just the amount of goals Adebayor is scoring for us that is the most remarkable, it is the variety of him, and he has really added something to this Arsenal team with his aerial prowess. A point he embellished nineteen minutes later. Adebayor and leb toiled on the right hand side, Hleb's cross was blocked, but the Flanimal tigerishly won the ball back from Simon Davies and manouvered it back to Hleb (a concise snapshot of everything he has offered us this season), Hleb picked out Adebayor with a sumptuous cross and Adebayor once again planted a neat header past Nieimi. From this point, any remaining dregs of self belief were sapped from Fulham, whose complete lack of muscle or physical presence made them fair play to Arsenal's awe inspiring passing game. They had a brief flurry when Clint Dempsey wriggled free to the byline, cut back for Danny Murphy who could not keep his shot down.
Fulham laid down and died in the second half. The Gunners nearly adding a breathtaking third, Eduardo, who moved out to wide left for the second period, somehow manouvered his way out of a heavily manned cul-de-sac, shimmied around Stefanovic and cut the ball back for Rosicky whose shot smashed the outside of the post. The Arsenal fans remained in fine voice, airing a new ballad which was pretty much repeated ad infinitum for around fifteen minutes. To the tune of Liverpool's 'we won it five times' a slow rumble of 'Adebayor, Adebayoooor, give him the ball and Ade will score' eventually worked into a crescendo, with fans swaying their scarves and some guys around me even holding their lighters above their heads. Really enjoyable stuff. Arsenal's champagne football kicked into overdrive, Hleb , presumably upset to see his team mate Eduardo able to beat three defenders with a series of deceptive shimmies, decided he was not to be upstaged. On the right hand side, changing gear about four times, he romped around four Fulham defenders next to the touchline (presumably whilst whistling 'anything you can do I can do better') cut the ball back for Rosicky, whose cute flick found Fabregas but the Catalonian could only turn the ball wide from eight yards. It was something of a crime against art that the ball did not end in the net. The fact that the ball did go wide was something akin to nicking Jackson Pollock's paintbrushes before he could put the finishing flicks to 'Number 5.'
Arsenal were able to boost the goal difference further in the last ten minutes. Fabregas found Eduardo in acres of space down the left hand side, he really should have played the ball to the unmarked Hleb, but hung onto it before clipping in a low cross which Rosicky threw himself at, his connection true enough to place the ball into the bottom corner. I might be wrong, but I think that every single one of his goals this season has come in the last ten minutes of a game. Hleb tried his best to christen our new Adebayor song, when he beat three Fulham defenders but opted to try and lay the ball on for Adebayor when a shot had opened up. Unfortunately, the Togonator was rocking back on his heels expecting Hleb to seek a well deserved goal. After yet another mesmeric dribble, Hleb was clearly pulled down in the area by Volz, but Peter Walton took pity on Fulham and didn't give it. All in all it was a comfortable day at the office, it was pleasing to see some of our attacking football return. But let us not kid ourselves, this was a poor Fulham side, lacking any sort of belief, work rate or physical attributes. Fulham look like they are destined for the impending inevitability of relegation and most of their players do not really look to bothered about it. As far as we were concerned it was an excellent response to last week's disappointment and we are all left thanking our lucky stars that Togo did not qualify for the African Nations!LD.
Date:Sunday January 20 2008
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