Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday May 23 2011
The last game of a season that has felt increasingly like a grinding chore, but we were determined for our spirits not to be dampened. In fact, they were to be drenched. We met at the Boathouse on Putney Bridge Quay at 12noon; leaving us plenty of time to douse our gullets with sweet, live giving booze. In spite of the sporadic downpours, the pub was well stocked with the Gooner family. It was a pleasure to be able to speak with some of you. After several pints of bitter, we made the walk through a blustery Putney and into the salubrious surrounds of Bishops Park before making our way into the Putney End, which was already well voiced. London away matches probably provide the most raucous atmospheres due to the increased possibility of a pre match visit to a pub. Red Action have run boat trips to Craven Cottage for the last four or five seasons which I think adds that little bit more voice to Fulham away.
There are fewer finer places for pre match osmosis than Fulham and Putney. Add to that that the Putney End at Fulham is hollow and therefore reverberates voluminously under stamping feet and you usually find quite the racket can be caused. The supporters were already in fine voice before the match started, with a new Samir Nasri chant being aired to the tune of Depeche Mode`s 'Can`t Get Enough.` A less than complimentary, yet admittedly quite amusing rendition of, "It`s Denilson`s leaving party, take Eboue and Diaby" got plenty of support. During the match a quite amusing chorus of "your statue is sh*t, your statue is sh******t, it should`ve been Jedward, your statue is sh*t."
Whilst the supporters were determined to enjoy themselves, the players rather went through the motions. Which you`ve really come to expect from this team over the last two months. Plans for next season were perhaps in the winds, with Almunia, Rosicky and Bendtner not able to secure a place on the bench ahead of either Jens Lehmann or Ignasi Miquel. Meanwhile, Chamakh lined up beside van Persie in a 4-4-2 formation. You rather had the feeling that the game was something of a laboratory for 2011-12.
Both teams played the game with something of a "do we have to?" air; it took nearly 20 minutes for the first chance of note to be created. Bacary Sagna arrowed in a right wing cross to his opposite flank man Kieran Gibbs, whose low header bought a smart save out of Schwarzer. An ironic chant of "Let`s pretend we`ve won the league" was aired, but taken up with more vigour than at Stoke. With comedy, it`s all in the timing. As the chant went up, Murphy slipped Zamora in down the right channel with Kieran Gibbs AWOL, Zamora motored to the by line and cut the ball back for Steve Sidwell to score a simple tap in. "That`s why we`re Champions!" came the withering reply. In conjunction with this, every Fulham corner was greeted with an ironic chant of "We defended a corner." Surely, hearing that has to embarrass the players and coaching staff into action on the training ground?
But within three minutes, Arsenal`s leading torch man had the side he has carried for the last four months back into the game. Diaby won the ball back off of Danny Murphy in the Fulham half, exchanged passes with Chamakh, before slipping a clever pass into van Persie, who composed himself before clipping the ball past the hopelessly inept Mark Schwarzer. The Cottagers had time to mount the only incident of significant interest for the remainder of the half. Djourou`s clearance struck Danny Murphy in the Arsenal area, Murphy bumbled and smuggled his way around Szczesny, but with the ball trickling over the line, Thomas Vermaelen stormed back with a deliciously executed goal line tackle a yard from his own goal line. "Thomas Vermaelen, we`ve missed him all year" came the chant from the Putney End. Quite.
The second half was even more drab and dreary than the first. Samir Nasri`s free kick from the edge of the area forced a save from Schwarzer, but Fulham, who were only slightly more arsed than Arsenal, reassumed the lead when Jesus-a-like Jonathan Greening made a beeline for the by-line, cut a cross back to Bobby Zamora, who rose above Vermaelen to head into the roof of the net. With news of City`s two goal lead at Bolton and the pre match beer beginning to wear off, the atmosphere became diluted, then slightly poisonous. Arsenal Ladies were deservedly recognised with a chant of their own, but as the game limped towards conclusion, a venomous chorus of "spend some f*****g money!" reverberated around West London. For the second time in a week, the supporters were uprising against the club as the players ambled around, looking about as creatively inspired as an old man`s todger. Me and mine tried to lighten the mood with a rendition of "My summer holiday, is Rubin Kazan." It didn`t take, people weren`t laughing anymore.
The Gunners were given a glimmer when Schwarzer spilled van Persie`s low, slow cross hilariously into the path of Chamakh; who outdid the hapless Antipodean`s incompetence by fumbling the ball wide. An, ahem, "enthusiastic" two footed lunge by Zoltan Gera on Vermaelen earned the Hungarian a red card, but still Arsenal toiled unconvincingly. Arshavin cut on from the right and fired just wide. But Arsenal got their, somewhat meaningless, reprieve in the 89th minute. Chamakh set Walcott racing down the right; he showed Hughes a clean pair of heels before cantering into the area. His poor low shot was fumbled comically into the net by Schwarzer. It was a fitting goal given the quality of the match.
As the final whistle sounded, most players sheepishly breezed past the Putney End towards the tunnel, not wishing to make eye contact with the supporters who had called them out on their effort. Wilshere, Szczesny and Vermaelen came over. Of course Eboue did his, "oooh, I`m gonna wait five minutes, go over alone and secure another hilarious reception." But nobody really took the bait; people have tired of the cult of Eboue since the Liverpool penalty fiasco. We bought the curtain down on another campaign with a good, steady drinking session in Parson`s Green. We already know Bendtner, Denilson, Almunia and Rosicky are pretty much certainly out of the door, it`s hard to see a way back for Carlos Vela too. You sense there will be a big churn of squad players this summer. Wenger has spoken to French television today forecasting his busiest ever summer. You`ve the feeling it`s necessary.
Thanks very much to all of you for reading this season. I`ve had the good fortune to meet with a few of you over the course of the campaign and it`s been a pleasure. Of course I`ll be back doing the same roving reporting next season; but in the meantime there will be a lot of material from me over the next few weeks. Player of the Season, season reviews, player ratings and all that old jazz. I`m not terribly sad to see the back of 2010-11, but I`ve still enjoyed it. I always do. If nothing else, it`s been emotional.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 20.DJOUROU, 5.VERMAELEN, 28.GIBBS (27.Eboue `64), 16.RAMSEY (14.Walcott `64), 19.WILSHERE, 2.DIABY (23.Arshavin `64), 8.NASRI, 29.CHAMAKH, 10.v.PERSIE©. Unused: 13.Lehmann, 15.Denilson, 18.Squillaci, 48.Miquel.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Monday May 23 2011
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