Fulham 0 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 van Persie (51)
The mark of a title winning team is to play poorly and win. Of course, the judgement of whether a team has played badly is entirely relative, dependent upon the standards that they have set themselves. Yesterday was a halway house, neither outstanding or poor. It was enough. It was a fixture that has tasted defeat in two of the previous three visits. That it did not is in no small amount to Vito Mannone.
Notionally the third choice ‘keeper at the club, Mannone suffered at the hands of his critics believing him to be another Almunia. If the Spaniard plays that well for the rest of the season, Arsenal will walk the league, FA Cup, Champions League and Carling Cup, even if he does not play in some of those tournaments. Mannone in the meantime has questioned the judgement of those who were criticising him.
The match itself was a thoroughly enjoyable affair, not least because the hosts were prepared to try and play football, to attack and to stretch the game in a manner that put many teams above them to shame. The folly in their approach was shown in the result and the fact that Bobby Zamora would have struggled to find the cow, let alone hit its arse with a banjo. Yet hopefully others will take hope from the number of chances Fulham created. Would that every team approached the game with similar intent because quite simply, Arsenal’s ability to win these sorts of games increases.
It was an important win. The surprise defeat of Chelsea created a tightness in the table, marked with the game in hand that Arsenal possess. A win and three points is the gap to the leaders, an inconsequential amount at this stage of the season, especially with two of the teams above us already visited.
Mannone is garnering the praise, quite rightly so. Dempsey, Gera, Zamora, Johnson and everyone else will be wondering how they failed to beat the youngster. He had a helping of luck along the way but as Gary Player observed, “The harder I practice, the luckier I get“. Mannone must have been at London Colney twelve hours a day last week on that basis. He even found time to give William Gallas a wake-up call with his left knee.
Fulham were quicker out of the blocks with Johnson and Dempsey getting an early indication of the form Mannone was in, a double save that he knew little about for the second part. Fabregas had the first Arsenal chance minutes later, scooping his shot over the bar. Arshavin was closer in distance from the goal when he rasped a shot high. It was a signal for Arsenal’s dominance at that point, a precursor to a goal for the visitors, or so it seemed. van Persie blazed a free kick so high that the local aircraft were given a danger warning.
Before the interval, Mannone had one more intervention to make, saving from Gera’s accurate effort. Six minutes into the second half, the deadlock was broken, Fabregas finding van Persie whose first touch controlled the ball, his second sent it into the back of the net. Bendter could have doubled the advantage, drawing a good save from Schwarzer. Fulham recovered and Mannone once more denied Johnson, Zamora and at the end, Zamora once more, stopping a header from almost point blank range.
After the match, Arsene said:
Vito is young with talent and he showed that talent today. You have to give him 10 out of 10 because he did absolutely everything right and that’s all you can ask of a goalkeeper.
The rest of the team were unexceptional in their performance. They were not bad, just did not get going. Criticism of them is missing the point to some extent though. How many times in the past few seasons has a performance such as this resulted in a defeat? The media likes to portray Champions or challengers as those who sweep all away before them yet frequently, the opposite is true. There are probably 5 or 6 wins in every seasons where the performance does not merit that result.
As Wenger observed:
There is an attitude, a spirit and a quality in the side that makes me very positive about this season
I believe it is called resilience. Clichy hinted at that earlier in the week when he observed that the players were more unified, Gallas happier in his relationship with Vermaelen than Toure and Adebayor gone, the disdain of Robin van Persie apparent in his reference to his former team-mate as “Mr Adebayor“. A squad that is willing to fight for each other is one that can challenge for silverware. Whilst yesterday is no guarantee of that, it is a positive indication.