Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday August 24 2008
'What we did tiday was just not good enough.' Succinctly put by Arsene Wenger, it's certainly a few expletives short of exactly what I think of yesterday's performance. That's a real shame because the day itself otherwise was a pretty nice one. I've spoken before of my fondness for trips to Craven Cottage, and Fulham away on August Bank Holiday weekend was as much as I could have asked for from the fixture computer. We began the festivities nice and early, meeting in the Boat House pub at 1.30pm. Picturesquely located on the bank of the Thames, the place was swollen with Gooners enjoying the sunshine. From there we made our way over the bridge to find a very noicy Eight Bells, a baying throng of red and white in fine voice, before making our way through the park and into the stadium.
The jollity ended there as Fulham completely outplayed Arsenal in the first half, Bullard and Murphy pulling the strings in the centre of the park and Arsenal's complete lack of desire meant we refused to capitalise on Fulham's lack of muscle in the middle of the park. Wenger's decision to wait to buy a midfielder looked every bit as stupid and naive a risk as I felt it would be. Denilson toiled but had a real off day, misplacing passes and uncharacteristically pulling challenges. Basically put, Eboue was our best player. A brief flash of invention was evident after 15 minutes, Walcott overhit a cross from the right, the bristling Nasri neatly cut the ball back and the anonymous van Persie flashed a shot wide. But the Cottagers took control, Seol played in Zamora who smartly turned Toure, but the beefy Ivorian got the tackle in. The resulting corner was a microcosm of the game itself. Bullard and Murphy worked the short corner and swung in a cross and Brede Hangeland wanted to meet the ball more than William Gallas and studded the ball in, with Denilson turning his back on the challenge. Gallas has to ask serious questions of himself for that goal, when the captain won't fight for the ball you have to ask why.
The Gunners reply was immediate but short lived. Sagna, who also had a rare off day, swung in a beautiful cross from the right and Adebayor's header thumped the foot of the post. But Fulham went in at half time deservedly in front. In truth, steeped high in the Putney End, I wasn't at all worried. I thought Fulham would burn themselves out and Arsenal would cruise the gears in the last twenty minutes. The truth is, Fulham were too resilient and we didn't work them hard enough. Adebayor was starved of service and largely a peripheral character. van Persie was entirely ineffective, refusing to drop back and link the play between midfield and attack as he is supposed to. I'm struggling with him, I really am. Too often he is a cerebral character in a match and I get the impression he has no concept of team work whatsoever. There was an incident with five minutes left when Arsenal won a free kick on the right hand side of the penalty area and van Persie elected to shoot from an impossible angle. What infuriates me most though is that van Persie is something of a golden child amongst supporters, as evidenced yesterday. Criticising him is an act of heresy that will not be tolerated. Eboue, despite being our most committed player, still bore the brunt of acid tongued ranting in the away end, while van Persie swanned around and received no ire. In fact, in the twenty minutes Bendtner was on the pitch, he produced more than Adebayor and van Persie put together.
With around ten minutes remaining, Bendtner produced a 180 degree pirouhette and lifted a gorgeous through ball to van Persie, but the Dutchman was again guilty of rocking back on his heels. Long shots from Adebayor and Song were all we could muster from a Fulham side who were rigid. van Persie collected a pass from Sagna and fired a long shot just wide. Fulham nearly caught Arsenal on the break with a flowing move, Bullard fed Zamora who tucked the ball back to Davies, but he didn't trust his left foot and sliced horribly wide with the outside of his right. The final whistle saw the predictable outburst from the away end. The supporters really got my goat yesterday, I'm starting to wonder if football fans even watch the game anymore, it seems they arrive armed with their cliches and preconceptions and fire them off at will. So no matter that Eboue actually had a good game, it's his fault. No matter that van Persie was woeful, he's the favourite so no blame can be attributed to him. Somebody behind me fumed, 'Denilson can't control a game like Fabregas can Wenger!' If that gentleman could find a midfielder who can and who is willing to sit on our bench for six months a year, please be forthcoming with a name. Ultimately, Nasri and Eboue apart, we did not perform as a team or as individuals. The lack of depth in the midfield has hurt us like I knew it would. Wenger may want to wait for deadline day and save us a million or so on a midfielder, which is great, but we've lost a very attainable three points in waiting. That is a price we just cannot afford.LD.
Date:Sunday August 24 2008
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