Fulham 2-1 Arsenal
So, a pretty dismal start to the New Year, but perhaps a focus sharpener as this month’s transfer window opens.
It was the ultimate clichéd game of two halves. Arsenal were pretty damn good in the first, creating loads of chances, passing neatly, very enjoyable to watch and well worth their advantage. That the lead was only slim at the break ultimately came back to haunt us and there are not an awful lot of people that Wenger can blame for that other than his own team. We were very wasteful.
That said, there was a penalty shout on Gervinho, and with the benefit of video replay it was a clear spot kick. I can’t help but think that had our Ivorian not gone down quite so elegantly it would have been given, but it did at least add fuel to Wenger’s post-match rage: “We had a penalty in the last game, a clear handball. We had a penalty at Man City, we had a penalty at Villa Park”.
The other thing Wenger was incandescent about was Djourou’s sending off, accusing Fulham of getting the Swiss red-carded. I’ve not studied either yellow since I saw them live (Basically, I am using the ‘I didn’t see it excuse’ – learned from the master) but I will say this: Neither yellow was so outrageous that it was mystifying. Reds have been given for less. However, it did make our job all the harder and so it proved.
The fact is, we continue to play with a centre-half at right-back and, yesterday, a right-footed central midfielder at left-back and until we can sort that mess out we will not look as secure or as dynamic as we need to look. That Coquelin had a really fine game slightly holes my argument below the waterline but the point stands.
In the second half we were a pale shadow of the side that dominated the first. Fulham improved and we tired. I know we’ve all played similar numbers of games over the Christmas period, but Arsenal in particular looked to have long run out of gas and you can’t say that Fulham’s equaliser hadn’t been coming.
Which brings me to another point: we’re relying too much on a small core of players. Walcott (through illness) and Ramsey got a break against Wolves, and Gervinho got one against QPR, but other than that Wenger has stuck with the same players for four games in 13 days. A lot of this, of course, is out of his hands: our back line picks itself and without Wilshere & Diaby our midfield options are fewer. Up front, van Persie has played all 360 minutes of the festive period. Chamakh has played five minutes and Park none. That van Persie needs a rest is surely no longer in doubt – it’s a good job we have seven days before our next game and he may be spared that one anyway. Well deserved. As @steve4good pointed out on Twitter, that Wenger could not trust anyone but van Persie to start against Wolves, QPR or Fulham speaks volumes. He’s the best striker in the land right now but he’s not superman.
So this break comes at a good time, and I fully expect us to be bombarded with transfer silliness henceforth. That we need to strengthen though is beyond argument for me.
Back to work then. Hurrah! Happy New Year all.