A welcome reprieve for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as his team thrust aside the lethargy against Birmingham last week. They kept pace with leader Manchester United by handing Fulham a crushing 3-0 defeat. With an insipid attack, lack of creativity, poor control of the ball and a jittery defense (every department is malfunctioning), there is no end in sight to Fulham’s stay in the relegation zone.
Initially, Fulham seemed ready to give Arsenal a hard time as they scrapped for every loose ball and kept their shape well. Alas, once Arsenal settled down and got into their stride, it was a different story. The famous one-touch passing was in full flow and the home team was chasing shadows. Unable to win the ball back and losing it cheaply in the middle of the park, they had no choice but to sit back and defend in numbers.
That gave Arsenal the license to romp in their half of the pitch. But for all their dominance, no goals materialize as the Gunners try to walk the ball into the net. Two tame Cesc Fabregas shots and a high Adebayor volley barely threatened the keeper Anti Niemi.
It was only when the Gunners attacked down the flanks and utilized the width to pull Fulham’s defenders out of position that the rewards were reaped. All three goals came from crosses, which were delivered superbly and helped by weak defending. Credit must go to Rosicky, Alexander Hleb and Gael Clichy, who terrorised Fulham with their overlapping runs.
Emmanuel Adebayor had taken his tally for the season to 15 goals. Fulham’s aerial deficiency were exposed as Adebayor rose, not once but twice to head the crosses precisely into the net. Cesc Fabregas then came within inches of scoring, poking just wide after a delightful run by Hleb on the right. The third goal, which affirmed Arsenal’s complete superiority came shortly after; Rosicky, racing in with perfect timing, met the cross of Eduardo with a stab past Niemi from six yards.
Arsenal’s makeshift defense is holding up but then, they were hardly tested. Goalkeeper Manuel Almunia could have dozed off without anyone noticing. Senderos who was a disgrace since his return from injury put up a credible show but to say he is back to his best, based on the quality of their opponent, is stretching the truth.
Wenger is happy with the result, saying: “That was just what we needed after the disappointing result against Birmingham last week. We were in control of the game for all 90 minutes.”
He added that several changes will be made for the decisive second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final away to Tottenham on Tuesday. “The ones who didn’t play today will get a chance then.”
Arsenal make light of the injury of Robin Van Persie who had returned back to Holland for rehabilitation, and Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo Toure and Alexandre Song are representing their African countries in the Ghana tournament. It is lucky that Togo did not qualify, as Adebayor is now playing a pivotal role for the Gunners.
As for Fulham manager Roy Hodgson, the man in the hot seat, he cut a forlorn figure well before the end, having now lost each of his three league games, and is in urgent need of his first win in Tuesday’s FA Cup replay away to Bristol Rovers. The curse at Blackburn Rovers seems likely to repeat itself.
“This was not satisfactory, of course,” Hodgson said. “We weren’t able to create pressure on them at any stage and in certain areas, especially wide, we didn’t win enough challenges.”
Hodgson’s battle to lift Fulham here was not helped by the suspension of Paul Konchesky, injury of Brede Hangeland and Diomansy Kamara’s absence on African Cup of Nations duty with Senegal.
It is a surprise to see the talismanic Jimmy Bullard, starting on the bench against such a top-notch opponent. When he did join the fray, it was too late as Arsenal had raced to a 2-0 lead and effectively game over.
Too many of their players are plainly not up to Premier League standard, and when Hodgson looked to the bench for inspiration, he can only sent on Bullard, David Healy and finally Shefki Kuqi but there was no significant improvement on the pitch.
Hodgson said: “Confidence is not high when you’re not winning matches and it’s difficult when you’re facing a team as skilful and good at keeping the ball as Arsenal. We kept at our task and didn’t throw in the towel but we didn’t threaten them nearly enough and it was a comfortable victory for them.”
Bristol Rovers will fancy their chances, then Fulham face a real relegation dogfight at Bolton. At the moment, the Premier League table for the top three remains unchanged as United and Chelsea continue their impressive run, so it is likely the race is going right to the wire.
Next up for Arsenal are Newcastle in the FA Cup and the Premier League but first they have to clear the Carling Cup second leg hurdle against Spurs. All not easy matches, Ramos is itching for a win and King Kev is no push-over either, it is important that Arsenal’s tattered defense weather the storm, else it will be a serious setback for their title hopes.