Fulham 0-1 Arsenal: A Huge Let-Off

The Everton match was a textbook example of a match where our guys suffered a result that probably was a bit unfair given the solidity of their performance. This one, on the other hand, was a perfect example of the result being probably more than we deserved on a day where almost nothing seemed to come off for us offensively.

Needless to say, I couldn't care less if it was unfair for Fulham. Three points is three points, and right now we'd all steal them from a defenseless child if that's what it took.

That said, it's odd - I never saw this as of much of a trap game as many other Gooners did. Fulham have been poor defensively this season, though I admit that I didn't account for the fact that teams tend to get up for playing us. It's amazing how a side like Fulham will roll over and die for Chelsea or United, but we come to town and all of a sudden it's their World Cup Final.

Frankly, I think it's because we're just good enough to be seen as around that level, but just vulnerable enough where they think they have a chance. Man, that's a crappy place to be.

The boss made two changes to the side that fought so well against the Toffees - Nacho Monreal and Tomas Rosicky came on for the struggling Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere. On paper, this was a starting eleven that should have been able to tear through the Cottagers' defense like tissue paper.

Instead, we got a disjointed start to the match where both sides could have opened the scoring early. Fulham tore us apart in the first few minutes but couldn't convert the chance, while Theo Walcott had a goal rightly pulled back for offside.

The match was just settling into something resembling a normal rhythm when a moment of madness saw the hosts go down to 10 men.  Mikel Arteta had the ball in midfield, but in nothing close to a dangerous situation. Steve Sidwell, however, decided to go in with a reckless two-footed challenge on the Spaniard. That was a clear red card, and also the last call that Andre Marriner would get right all day.

However, the red card may have been a net negative for the Gunners. Previously, Fulham were likely to have tried and played football with us, which would leave space that guys like Walcott could eventually exploit on the counter. Sidwell's dismissal meant that the Cottagers played in two banks of four, a setup which Arsenal have always struggled to break down in recent times.

We all know the story from there in cases like this - the Gunners dominate possession, calmly passing along the perimeter of the penalty area without ever seriously threatening the opposing goalkeeper. Meanwhile, the defending team proves dangerous on the counter, and ends up with more chances overall.

Seriously, you can set your watch to it by now.

Right on schedule, it was Fulham who could have taken the lead a few minutes after Sidwell walked. A quick counterattack saw Bryan Ruiz play in Dimitar Berbatov on the right-hand side of the area. The Bulgarian hit it well, but it was right at Wojceich Szczesny and proved to be a comfortable save in the end for the Pole. The resulting corner was less so, but Szczesny was able to punch away confidently. It looks like his spell on the bench has screwed his head back on straight, which could be critical given that he is unquestionably the most talented keeper on our books.

Arsenal were able to stop the bleeding after that, but they couldn't fashion any chances. It would be overly harsh to say that all of our midfielders were poor, but with the exception of Santi Cazorla they were collectively less than their best. Cazorla was able to split the Fulham defense to give Olivier Giroud an open shot, which was hit well and in the right area. Mark Schwarzer was well beaten, but it hit the foot of the post and went out to safety.

Up the other end, a poor giveaway from Nacho Monreal allowed Urby Emanuelson to get a free shot on net, but thankfully it was the finish of a left back and Szczesny was able to get down well to parry it away.

Had they scored there, the final may have been 1-0 in the other direction. Instead, Arsenal flipped the usual script, as this time we were the beneficiaries of a set-piece goal against the run of play. A free kick outside the penalty area was curled in to the back post, where Laurent Kosicelny headed it back across the face of goal. Philippe Senderos allowed Per Mertesacker to get by him, leaving the BFG with an easy tap-in header.

The second half continued in the same vein as the first, Arsenal's lack of fluency in midfield giving Fulham an easy job of defending. Aaron Ramsey and Arteta were especially poor, while Walcott was largely invisible. Substitutions were badly needed, but the hour mark came and went with no movement from the Arsenal bench.

Instead, it was Berbatov who had the best chance to score in this period of play. His half-shot half-chip in the 70th minute caught Szczesny out of position. Woj's footwork was excellent though, and he was able to scramble back in time to tip it over the crossbar.

Belatedly, the ineffectual Walcott and the knackered Rosicky were taken off for Lukas Podolski and Jack Wilshere. Still, Arsenal were disjointed and toothless. Again, Fulham were the more dangerous and this time they managed to put the ball in the net. A poor foul from Ramsey gave the home side a free kick, which Ruiz put on frame. Szczesny parried it out, but Stanislav Manolev was there to tuck home the rebound. Replays showed that he was offside though, and sure enough the linesman on that side, Sian Massey, spotted the infraction and flagged it down.

A quick aside about Massey, since I'm on the subject. Naturally, we're all big fans this week since she negated Fulham's equalizing goal. It should be said though that she is legitimately the best in the Premier League at her position, and it's not a matter of gender. We shouldn't look at her as "the female linesman", we should be looking at her as "the best linesman in the league". Full stop.

The remaining twenty minutes passed by mostly without incident, though Fulham did have the better of the play despite the man disadvantage. Just as the match was heading to injury time though, Marriner broke out the big, floppy clown shoes in issuing his second red card of the match.

A perfectly harmless play in midfield saw Giroud win the ball from the Fulham player without so much as grazing him. In fact, the Frenchman tripped over the ball and fell over himself, but somewhere in this Marriner saw a straight-red infraction. Oddly, this didn't give the hosts any further momentum, as they never threatened our net again. Ramsey had one shot go wide of the post in injury time, but otherwise Arsenal closed it out fairly easily from there.

There will be no shortage of criticism directed towards the Gunners in the next day or two, and much of it will be warranted. Let's not mince words - Arsenal were dreadful today and cannot reasonably say that the points were deserved. However, this is not a game that is often fair, and we all know how often the reverse has happened to us.

The important thing is that despite playing poorly, three more points have gone up on the board for us. The nearest and dearest play Manchester City today, and assuming they lose it they'll be five points behind us with one game in hand. We have our toughest remaining game next week against United, but the sides chasing us have tough games ahead as well. It should put some of the hysteria around our draw last week in perspective - a top-four place is still very much in our hands, and chances are that it's exactly what we'll earn by the end of the season.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Monreal 6, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 8, Sagna 6, Arteta 5, Ramsey 5, Cazorla 7 (Vermaelen N/A), Rosicky 6 (Wilshere 6), Walcott 6 (Podolski 6), Giroud 6.

Man of the Match: Not much to choose from this week, but I'll go with the BFG, Per Mertesacker for the goal and an assured defensive display.