Arsenal 0 – 0 Fulham
It was little surprise that this game ended goalless. The most striking feature of 2009 thus far, has been the inability of the squad to build upon strong performances in a previous game. Whilst it is commendable that a run of fifteen games has been built since the defeat in Porto, there can be no argument that too many of those games have been drawn.
Even more, the gap to fourth place is now wider than it was when the run began in December 2008. In terms of outcome, more points would have been gained had the team won three and lost four of the seven Premier League games that ended drawn. Yet, had that been the case, criticisms would have been made of the failure to turn the defeats into draws. A no-win situation, literally and metaphorically-speaking.
Despite this, the longer term view needs to be looked at. Unfortunately, that view cannot be taken until May when the final standings are known. The season has been a turbulent mix of the good, the bad and the ugly; inconsistency the byword. Eleven games remain. Assuming that Villa win this afternoon, Wenger will know in five games whether or not fourth place is achievable or not. There is no point in saying that Villa have to go to Anfield or Old Trafford; so do we (albeit the United game is later in the season) and we have to win those games. He will also be sneaking a peek over his shoulder as Everton refuse to succumb to their usual inconsistency at this point in the season and remain in contention for fifth place.
Prior to the match, Arsene sought to deflect pressure from the forward line. He did so by swapping things around, removing Bendtner from the starting line-up and bringing Vela to the left. Creatively, it brought more to the ‘party’ but that was not the problem beforehand; finishing was and playing van Persie as a lead striker does not bring the best out of the Dutchman.
He did his best to disprove that theory. No-one can fault his effort; more luck or six inches left, right, lower and he would have had a hat-trick, or at the least the single goal which would have made the world of difference to the result. It was not to be, a combination of Schwarzer and the woodwork denying him. Other than Diaby, no-one else came particularly close, for the most part any stops made by the Fulham custodian were comfortable.
The midfield with Diaby in it is more dynamic than the Song / Denilson partnership. Yesterday, the ‘Double Diamond’ prompted well but in the latter stages, failed to pressurise Fulham as much as they should have – possession was surrendered at that stage by the visitors willingly when they were closed down eventually. Of the creative players, it was a mixed bag. Arshavin’s passing is sublime at times but his shooting is the opposite end of the spectrum as he seeks to regain match sharpness whilst Nasri and Vela both flitted in and out of the game.
There were, of course, plus points to be had. A fifth consecutive game with a clean sheet bodes well for the two knockout tournaments that the club remain involved in. Either can be won with clean sheets, Arsenal capable of nicking the goal required to progress if the defence holds firm. Fulham deserve credit yesterday; they made the back four work by refusing to park the proverbial bus in front of goal and were willing to push forward. That Almunia had perhaps one save to make all afternoon shows their profligacy matched that of Arsenal.
Luck plays a huge part in seasons, be it injuries, refereeing decisions or the woodwork. It is eluding Arsenal in two of those areas right now but may well return quickly. It has to; West Brom is a crucial game. With Villa at Manchester City, the possibility exists to claw back the points dropped in the chase for fourth. Wenger noted that Walcott, Adebayor and Eduardo will all be back in the next fortnight and hinted that it will be in that order. An injection of something new into the side may be the crucial difference between the Champions or Europa League next season.
Finally, not sure if anyone used the ATVO online coverage but if you did, the producers are asking for your feedback so please leave a comment about it. That is, after you’ve had your moan about the match!