Fulham vs. Arsenal: Keeping the faith

The Gunners showed faith in their criticized manager with an impressive 3-1 victory at Fulham on Saturday. The result removes some pressure from Wenger’s shoulders but a closer look at the match also highlights the need for reinforcements.

Against an average side, the manager decided to rest Wilshere and fielded an offensive lineup with Giroud up front, Podolski and Walcott on the wings, and Cazorla, Rosicky and Ramsey in midfield. The tactical move paid off as the pouring rain favored quick passing. The only question mark was how Arsenal would defend after conceding three goals to Aston Villa in the opening round. The Gunners seemed to have learnt their lesson: Jenkinson made a cynical foul on Taarabt to break a counterattack in the sixth minute.

Fulham pressed high up the pitch to force turnovers. But the quality of Arsenal’s passing game made the difference in the first half despite the exhaustion from Wednesday’s Champions League match. Walcott chased a ball over the top from Rosicky in the 10th to fire a low strike that Stockdale stopped. From the ensuing corner, Riise cleared Giroud’s downward header. The French striker had more luck in the 14th when Ramsey’s long-range effort crashed into his legs. Clean through on goal, Giroud reacted quickly enough to slip the ball past Stockdale for the opener.

The Gunners displayed their counterattacking skills as the Cottagers freed some space while seeking the equalizer. Giroud released Walcott down the right flank in the 38th, and the English winger crossed the ball for Gibbs who missed the target. Three minutes later, Podolski was much more clinical after Stockdale had denied Walcott. The German forward pounced on the rebound to slam the ball in the middle of the net from 16 yards. On the stroke of half-time, Walcott hit Fulham on the fast break to connect with Podolski. Instead of taking his chance from a tight angle, the German forward made a low pass that eluded Walcott. Podolski made the right decision but the execution was poor.

Arsenal started tiring in the second half but it still capitalized on another counterattack to make it 3-0 in the 68th. Giroud initiated the play with a terrific first touch to bring the ball down and find Walcott. Cazorla shielded the ball on the left flank to give Podolski enough time to reach the area. The German forward took the pass from Cazorla and fired into the bottom corner. Fulham dominated the last 20 minutes and scored a consolation goal in the 77th. Mertesacker gave Berbatov too much time and space to control the ball, spin and shoot. Szczesny saved the Bulgarian striker’s goal attempt, but Bent beat Jenkinson to the ball to tap in at the far post.

The Gunners’ defensive performance was better than against Aston Villa but there were still a few lapses of concentration. Szczesny compensated for his defenders’ poor marking in the 16th by palming away Taarabt’s shot before blocking Duff’s effort from the rebound. Walcott did a poor job in the 38th to track Riise, whose cutback was intercepted by Mertesacker. Parker will turn 33 this year but he ran unchallenged in the 51st until a tackle from Sagna preventing him from being clean through on goal.

That match also showed the need for a holding midfielder. Ramsey was in charge of protecting the back four but he quickly got in trouble by earning a yellow card in the 21st for a challenge on Sidwell. Rosicky and Cazorla tried to help Ramsey in midfield, but they are not ballwinners. Cazorla gave away a dangerous free kick in the 26th with a clumsy challenge on Taarabt. Kasami’s subsequent set piece deflected off the wall, but Szczesny dived to his left to make the catch.

Taarabt definitely gave Ramsey a hard time. The Morocco midfielder rolled away from Ramsey in the 46th to fire a low drive that Szczesny tipped away. When Ramsey shoved Taarabt in the 48th, he could have received a second yellow card with a referee as inconsistent as Taylor. But Ramsey was very lucky to have Webb officiating on Saturday and escaped another booking. Ramsey’s positional play was decent overall, but he failed to patrol the edge of the area in the 66th when Parker cut the ball back for Kasami. Fortunately, Berbatov got in the way of Kasami, who dragged his shot wide from 17 yards.

Wenger has a week left to turn his team into a title contender. The holes in the squad are well known: a centerback, a defensive midfielder and a striker. Sagna was outstanding on Saturday, but we need him on the right flank simply because he’s a much better fullback than Jenkinson. Playing Ramsey and Wilshere in central midfield could be an option against average teams, but they would struggle against sides such as Chelsea and Tottenham. Arsenal definitely needs a faster and more powerful ballwinner than Arteta. Last but not least, the Gunners must hire a centerforward in case Giroud gets injured. Last season showed that Walcott and Podolski are not good enough in the air and not strong enough to hold the ball up.

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Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

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