Arsenal 1-1 Fulham: Could Be Worse

It is indeed true that Arsenal dropped what is on paper two extremely winnable points. Sure, there is some level of inherent frustration there, doubly so on a day where our nearest and dearest kept up their winning ways. And yet, I find myself palpably less frustrated than most of my Gooner brethren. I keep coming back to the fact that Fulham played a fantastic road match, took advantage of the one mistake Arsenal's defense made all day (look on the bright side - how often is it only one?) and most importantly that the team came back from a losing position once again.

This was a match largely without incident, so this shouldn't take long. Oddly, Fulham dominated possession in spells as the first half wore on, looking almost like the bad version of Arsenal as they probed around the midfield without much purpose or end product. There were a few instances for either side early on though where the lead could have been established.

Andrei Arshavin - starting in place of the recently ineffective Gervinho - was in alone on Mark Schwarzer and finished well into the low corner. Sadly, he was correctly flagged for offside. A few minutes later, Fulham came up the other end and fashioned an all-CONCACAF chance of their own. Costa Rica's own Bryan Ruiz sent in a cutback for Clint Dempsey (AMERICA, FUCK YEAH!) in a dangerous area. Johan Djourou was able to hurtle over from the right-back position and block superbly with a sliding tackle, though.

A few ticks on the clock after that, Arsenal probably should have had the lead. It was almost a mirror image of Fulham's chance, with Robin van Persie playing provider for Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman attempted a chip over Schwarzer, but the big Aussie was able to backpedal and claw it away to safety. A decent effort and a great save, but you can't help wondering if a more emphatic shot would have found its way in.

This is around where Fulham seized the momentum, often aided and abetted by the wayward passing of young Ramsey. As seen here in this fancy chart, while his overall completion rate was not bad, his unsuccessful passes tended to happen in promising attacking areas:

by Guardian Chalkboards

Ramsey's tough day at the office continued in the 24th minute, when he was teed up in the middle of the penalty area after great work by Theo Walcott down the right. Everyone in the pub tensed in anticipation of a sure goal, but instead the shot was fired well over the crossbar. From what I could see, it may have been a combination of a sliding Fulham defender and the fact that he rushed his shot, but it still surely must be filed in the bin marked "Terrible Misses".

Unsurprisingly, Walcott opted to shoot himself after fashioning a similar chance a moment or two later, but Schwarzer was able to awkwardly parry the effort away. Down the other end, Fulham got the last chance of the half when Moussa Dembele's long-range shot was much less-awkwardly parried away by Wojceich Szczesny.

The second half opened in somewhat of a fugue state, with little in the way of effective attacking play. Still, a positive from Arsenal's point of view is that the midfield and fullbacks were all effective in quickly winning the ball back after possession was lost. I distinctly remember Djourou, Andre Santos and Alex Song all making key interventions to prevent Fulham from getting anything going. Djourou in particular was fantastic on the day, showing the kind of confidence he had previous to last season's epic collapse.

Speaking of confidence, RVP was inches away from opening the scoring on the hour mark. He slalomed through the Fulham backline and sweetly struck a low shot. Schwarzer was beaten so comprehensively that he was rooted to the spot, but Chris Baird managed to block on the line and disentangle the ball from his feet before anyone could pressure him.

So, of course Fulham got their goal right afterwards.

The move started when Danny Murphy sent a long diagonal ball to John Arne Riise (who I honestly thought had retired two or three seasons ago). I had just gotten finished thinking to myself "Hey, Mike Dean hasn't had a bad game!", when he missed Riise's obvious handball as he tried to chest the ball down. Despite that, much like Dortmund's goal in midweek, there were several breakdowns on the play. Song was far too casual in his closing down of Murphy, giving him plenty of time and space to make the cross. Djourou was caught ball-watching in the middle of the area, and ended up taking himself out of the play. Thomas Vermaelen got beaten in the air by Riise, and then for an encore hooked the ball past a surprised Szczesny and into his own net.

Bloody hell, guys. At least Bobby Zamora was offside when he beat Szczesny a minute later - that would have been the ballgame right there, new Arsenal (now with 33% more mental strength!) or not.

The Boss responded by making two changes - Ramsey and Per Mertesacker off, Gervinho and Abou Diaby on. Both were good changes, as Wenger correctly surmised that Fulham wouldn't be that bothered with the whole attacking thing from this point on, and the extra help in the midfield helped swing momentum back to the Gunners. Diaby showed his rust a bit and had a few iffy touches, but he was energetic and direct, and I thought had a decent outing considering his long layoff. He'd really give this midfield something different and positive if he could ever stay fit.

In fact, it was Diaby's run and cross that was met by Djourou in the 73rd minute, forcing Schwarzer into another solid save (albeit at a comfortable height for him). There was a little tension as time went on with no equalizer in sight. I don't believe I was the only one who felt it coming, though - you didn't have much of the crazed howling at the screen that you see towards the end of matches that Arsenal is destined to lose.

Sure enough, int he 82nd, Vermaelen had his redemption - and his second goal of the afternoon. Walcott provided the cross after yet another excellent run down the right, and the Verminator was inexplicably left in acres by the Cottagers' defense. TV5 made no mistake, planting a perfect downwards header into the bottom corner. Once again, Schwarzer was rooted to the spot, and Arsenal were back on level terms.

Fulham continued to pack the bus in front of their net, despite the one breach of their defenses. To their credit, Arsenal were unable to fashion any further serious chances despite pressing hard for the winning goal. The men in white repelled them resolutely, and Dean's final whistle left Arsenal with what you can consider either two points dropped or one point thankfully salvaged.

Again, I can't claim to be too upset. We got out of jail a little this time, and at least a lackluster performance was met with one point instead of zero. Hey, we could have lost to Queens Park Rangers like some OTHER London side, you know? Everyone's going to drop points along the way - the key will be consistency from here on out. This is not the end of the world, lads and lasses.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Santos 7, Mertesacker 7 (Gervinho 7), Vermaelen 7, Djourou 8, Song 7, Ramsey 5 (Diaby 7), Arshavin 6 (Chamakh N/A), Arteta 7, Walcott 8, van Persie 7

Man of the Match: I didn't think I'd write this sentence this season, but Johan Djourou for me was the clear MOTM with his rock-solid defending. It could just as easily have been Walcott for his continued brilliance in attack, though.