Fulham 2-1 Arsenal: Mugged

This is the 20th year that I have watched this grand old sport. There have been some mind-boggling refereeing performances in that time - the two gold standards for me have always been that odious ginger midget Paul Durkin sending off Emmanuel Petit after he bumped into the Frenchman, and Phil Dowd's heroic performance for Newcastle in the 4-4 game from last season.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new champion.

Look, I know that it comes off as sour grapes when a referee is attributed the entire blame for a poor result. There were indeed some culprits on the Arsenal side of things too, which I'll get to in a bit. But, the fact of the matter is that at the 70-minute mark, Arsenal were in control and extremely likely to come away from Hammersmith with all three points. The fact that they came away with nothing was just about entirely caused by one of the most breathtakingly ridiculous and incompetent red-card decisions I have seen since...well...Massimo Bussaca sending off Robin van Persie in the Barcelona game last year.

To give Fulham the credit that they're due, they were quite frisky on the day, their defense and midfield hunting in packs and harassing the man on the ball at every opportunity. They created some chances 11-on-11, but tellingly they wasted them all in horrendous fashion.

Meanwhile, Arsenal were lively themselves, which led to an entertaining first 45 minutes. The initial exchanges were about even, until Probert's first mystifying decision of the day prevented the Gunners from taking a likely lead. RVP played Gervinho into the penalty area, and his foot was kicked out from under him by our old boy Philippe Senderos. Admittedly, Gervinho was slightly off-balance at the time of contact, but he was still firmly in possession of the ball and it absolutely should have been whistled for the spot-kick. Needless to say, if the shirt colors had been reversed, I'd bet all four of my limbs that it would have been a penalty.

Fulham might have had a chance to take the lead just a minute later, but Wojceich Szczesny was alert to Johan Djourou's dreadful backwards header, and corralled it in just on the line of the penalty area. That proved to be crucial at the time, as Arsenal went up the other end and scored almost immediately after.

Mikel Arteta had a shot blocked off of a corner kick, and it came out to Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman's goal-bound effort was also blocked, but it ballooned up nicely for the onrushing Laurent Koscielny. The Frenchman made no mistake, heading in from about six yards out. Reserve Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale will, I think, be disappointed in himself for not coming out to challenge - with his defense at sixes and sevens, that should have been his ball.

Sadly for us, he would emphatically make up for it two minutes later, with an astonishing double-save that in hindsight won Fulham the points (well, other than Mr. Magoo in black, that is). Ramsey's drive from the edge of the penalty area was well saved by Stockdale - it was through traffic and in a tricky area close to his body, but he got down exceptionally well. He was up in a flash, and somehow got a hand to Alex Song's follow-up effort. He wasn't even finished there, as he got up and closed off the near post to Gervinho, who in turn was forced to a much harder shot at the far post. No prizes for guessing how that one turned out.

Beyond that, the first half was long on effort and nice midfield play, but short on quality in the final third. The Gunners in particular were let down by a truly abominable performance from Theo Walcott, who continues to frustrate with his inconsistency. Gervinho, once again, was all approach play and no telling ball in the penalty area.

Whatever Martin Jol said at halftime (don't ask me, I can only ever picture him saying "No, Mr. Bond...I expect you to die!) clearly worked a treat. The Cottagers seized the momentum immediately in the second half, leaving Arsenal a bit flat-footed and searching for ideas to contain this pack of hyperactive terriers.

It didn't help that Probert continued to have an absolute shocker - somewhere in there, he whistled Djourou for a handball that a) touched his shoulder, b) was not intentional and c) was on a ball that the Swiss man didn't even see. You can also file RVP getting sandwiched by two Fulham players in the area under "seen it given", and also allowed the home side to get away with ridiculously physical play. There was one instance where I believe it was Ramsey was sent to ground by a two-handed push in the back...Probert was looking right at it but called nothing.

This man should not be demoted - he should be relieved of his duties outright.

Around the hour mark, the first warning sign came when Szczesny flapped badly at a high ball and missed, leaving Senderos a wide-open header that went just the wrong side of the post. Five minutes later, Clint Dempsey somehow beat Per Mertesacker on a header (it may have helped if the big man had actually, you know, jumped and stuff), but he also missed wide.

Like I said, Fulham were creating chances but it looked like the sun would go nova before they put one away. Arsene Wenger removed Walcott and Gervinho in favor of Tomas Rosicky and Yossi Benayoun, but the home side still maintained much of the possession. Still, at around 70 minutes or so, I actually thought to myself "These are the kinds of games we've gutted out all season - we're going to win this 1-0."

Then, the red card happened.

Djourou had been booked about ten minutes before for a foul that probably deserved it, in fairness. The second yellow, however, was just the usual attacker vs. defender jostling that happens on, oh, I don't know, EVERY SINGLE FUCKING PLAY IN THE HISTORY OF ALL SOCCER. Bobby Zamora went down like a Thai hooker during American Navy shore leave, and that was that. Probert showed the second yellow, leaving Arsenal 12 minutes plus injury time to see out a fragile 1-0 lead.

I still thought that they could do it, or at worse hang on to get out of there with a point. Previously, I said that Probert only deserves most of the blame for our loss, and I stand by that. While much of it would go to him for his ghastly inability to do his job, some also has to go to Wenger for one of the most ill-conceived substitutions of recent years. Given the personnel we had to work with, there wasn't much he could do. You can't ask young Ignasi Miquel to come into a game in this situation, and that means you have two choices - you can bring Sebastien Squillaci into the game and hope he manages to forget that he's Sebastien Squillaci for 10 minutes, or you can put Song in central defense and move Koscielny out right.

Arsene chose the former, and that lost us the game.

Off a Fulham corner, Szczesny badly misjudged the flight of the ball, and his weak punch backwards came out to Senderos on the back post. The big doofball headed it back into the mixer, and the completely unmarked Steve Sidwell was there to sweep home into the empty net. I don't know if it was the otherwise-excellent Francis Coquelin who should have had him or Koscielny (who was spending his time getting in Szczesny's way and preventing him from getting back to his feet in time to maybe do something about the rebound) who should have had it, but it was a bad flashback to Shambolic 2010 Arsenal Defending.

Even despite that, there were only 5 minutes to see out, and a draw was still very much a possibility. The 90-minute mark passed with Arsenal having a goal kick, and only three minutes to kill off. Despite having ten men, it should have been possible.

But, we forget...Sebastien Squillaci, the Typhoid Mary of defending, was on the pitch. A Fulham cross from the sideline came in, and Squillaci managed to head it right back into the danger area. Again, a man was unmarked on the back post - this time, it was Zamora. How on earth their main striker was the guy unmarked, I have no conception. He volleyed towards the near post, and Szczesny just stood there and watched it go in. He might not have gotten there anyway, but it capped a hugely and uncharacteristically dreadful performance from the young Pole.

So, we come away from west London with nothing on a day where Chelsea stole a late winner against Wolves (thanks for letting Fat Frank waltz right through the center of the defense to tap home practically from the goal line, you mongs). The table is not nearly as pleasant reading as it was prior to the start of today's games, that's for sure.

We need reinforcements, Arsene. Helen Keller could see that...don't let us down, as usual.

One last note - I am traveling on business until January 23, but I will do what I can to see the games and get these up via ESPN3 or if I can find a place in Mumbai to watch. If not, Brett will take up the slack.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 4, Coquelin 7, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 7, Djourou 5, Gervinho 6 (Benayoun 6), Song 7, Arteta 6, Ramsey 7 (Squillaci 4), Walcott 4 (Rosicky 6), van Persie 6

Man of the Match: There isn't much to choose from here today. It could have been Koscielny, but I think Francis Coquelin was the best of a bad lot.