Arsenal Rue Missed Chances As Defensive Blunders Are Punished
Fulham 2 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Koscielny (21)
1 – 1 Sidwell (84)
2 – 1 Zamora (90)
Arsenal aimed at third place and shot themselves in the foot at Craven Cottage yesterday evening. Defensive errors, profligacy in front of goal and poor refereeing, combined with Johan Djourou’s red card, meant Arsenal left the banks of the Thames disappointed.
And yet this morning we could be talking so differently with familiar failings causing the downfall. Arsène did not shirk from blaming the side for their own errors, he is entirely correct that Lee Probert made a massive error in not awarding a penalty for the foul by Senderos on Gervinho, compounded by the dismissal of Djourou with Zamora conning the hapless official into believing that the Swiss defender had pulled his shirt.
Even so, Arsenal should have been two or more goals to the good without Probert’s intervention. Gervinho cleared the crossbar with a shot and Ramsey brought a comfortable save from Stockdale in the opening five minutes before the soon-to-be-departing Ivorian tormented the crowd with a volley that had no inkling of where the net was.
It was a lively opening and one that should have been rewarded when Senderos felled Gervinho in the area. Probert in his lacked sagacity in his application of the Laws of the Game, hardly surprising with current officiating standards plummeting from their already low perch.
The opening goal came from an unexpected source, more so because it was not Robin van Persie. Ramsey’s cross deflected into path of Laurent Koscielny displayed a ruthlessness in front of goal that is the envy of many of Arsenal’s strikers, his header thumping into the back of the net.
There can have been no complaints from Fulham. Despite Ruiz exploiting Coquelin’s inexperience at left back earlier in the half, it was all Arsenal and that lead should have been doubled within minutes. Walcott drilled in a low cross that Ramsey forced goalwards, Stockdale blocked and from Sidwell’s rebound, the Fulham ‘keeper prevented an own goal being scored by diverting the ball onto the post and to safety.
Shortly after Ruiz shot wide, van Persie was denied by Stockdale. It was not hard to see how Fulham had shipped five goals against Manchester United but Arsenal lacked ruthlessness in front of goal and were to suffer at the final whistle as a result.
Fulham were much livelier in the second half which was as much a result of the words of Martin Jol during the interval as Arsenal’s levels of effort and application dropping. Having been a virtual spectator in the first half, Szczesny was brought into action early in the second to save Ruiz’s flamboyant effort whilst Coquelin, growing in confidence in the unfamiliarity of the his left back role, diverted a Sidwell effort to safety.
The former Arsenal players in the Fulham ranks were determined not to lose to their alma mata. Senderos headed wide whilst Sidwell tested Szczesny’s judgement with a free-kick and brought an outstanding save from close range from the young Pole.
Johan Djourou was about to become a pivotal force in the game. Rightly booked for a foul, Mertesacker misjudged a clearance and the ball came through to enable a battle between Zamora and Djourou for possession. Shoulder to shoulder, the duo tussled all but briefly when the Fulham striker crumpled to the ground, insinuating that Djourou had wrestled him there. It was a collapse that an infant in a playground would have been embarrassed yet Lee Probert displayed naivety that is more associated with a referee officiating at his first match.
It was a night where the referee was noticed for all the wrong reasons.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, Wenger sought to bring on fresh legs in the shape of Tomas Rosicky in the midfield whilst Sebastien Squillaci came on in the defence.
Ten minutes later, the first defensive error came as Szczesny misjudged the flight of the ball and pawed Ruiz’s corner into the path of Senderos. He headed back across goal for Sidwell to equalise.
Arsenal sought to stifle the life from the game but failed as Squillaci enhanced his reputation with another wayward header into the path of Zamora who for once was unerring in his finish as the clock ran down.
It is hard not to be embittered by such a defeat. So much was in Arsenal’s hands after the first forty-five minutes yet they come away with nothing. Probert missed numerous fouls for which there was a reasonable expectation of punishment; van Persie would probably have been awarded a free kick had the push on him been outside the area. Inside? No chance of a foul being awarded. Riise was equally physical on Walcott yet the match continued unhindered.
Criticising officials is easy; we have the benefit of numerous camera angles and none of the pressure that they suffer on matchdays. It is too generic to say that they are all useless and get everything wrong. They don’t and are often proven right in dismissals or contentious fouls. Yet habitually making the wrong choice in a game such as those missed by Probert yesterday is becoming too commonplace. Sepp Blatter believes it to be part of the game’s charm. It isn’t, not when matches are decided by ineptitude.
Yet this defeat was as much of Arsenal’s making as anything else. Wasteful finishing has long been a squad failing, not just in this season but before as well. Gervinho and Walcott need to improve in this department, scoring a dozen or more Premier League goals should surely be a realistic target. Equally though, the midfield must chip in with more. In games such as this, one from Ramsey, Song or Arteta might have made all the difference.
There is plenty for Arsène to ponder from this. He cannot go and buy a defender just in case, yet more ill-fortune may necessitate that. As it is, his next Premier League match might see Coquelin and Miquel as his full-backs, a situation that highlights his plight. As for the forward line, Wenger does not believe in Chamakh whilst what he thinks of Park is open to conjecture. The adaptation period has run its course as an excuse.
With the hectic nature of the Christmas period for fixtures, I found it baffling and telling that neither the Korean or Moroccan featured beyond a substitute cameo. Henry’s arrival strengthens the forward line in the short-term but beyond that, surely Arsenal cannot go on without a viable replacement for van Persie?
A busy month may be ahead. ’til Tomorrow.