ARSENAL 4 – 0 FULHAM
1 – 0 Arshavin (21)
2 – 0 van Persie (26)
3 – 0 Baird (37 o.g.)
4 – 0 Vela (84)
And so the 2009/10 campaign comes to an end. 3rd place in the Premier League was secured and although not the triumph which threatened to materialise, the placing is considerably higher up the table than the squad was given any chance of achieving before the kick-off at Goodison Park last August.
There were many positives about the line-up with Clichy and Arshavin back whilst the bench saw Gibbs and Djourou returning from their long-term injuries. Perhaps it was the final appearance for others, may be not. Either way, opinions will remain divided over the likes of Silvestre with their contributions to this season being less than fondly remembered but deserving of more respect that the minority gave them.
Pre-match suggestions of this being anything but an ordinary end-of-the-season match were wide of the mark. Fulham’s minds were elsewhere but Arsenal set about ensuring that the campaign finished on a relative high, passing and moving well from the kick-off. This derby was anything but blood and thunder.
For Mark Schwarzer, it was a case of thud and blunder as he miscontrolled the ball, allowing Andrey Arshavin to nip in to steal the ball, beat the Australian and then bury the ball into the net as the halfway mark of the first half approached. It was Arshavin’s first goal since March 30th at Hull. Goalkeepers had a nervy afternoon. Fabianski missed an early punch, giving his detractors more ammunition whilst conveniently ignoring his place as stand-in for the squad, the notion of which identifies him as not yet being ready for the first team on a regular basis.
The lead was doubled five minutes later with Robin van Persie scoring in consecutive games for the first time since October 2009, his first Emirates goal since the crushing of Tottenham, emphasising the costly nature of injuries this season. It was the quintessential Arsenal goal. Sagna released Walcott on the right and his pace took him clear of the defence. Showing a composure which can occasionally go missing, Walcott squared for van Persie. The Dutchman’s shot ricocheted off Schwarzer’s leg onto the bar, van Persie burying the rebound.
A match which seemed to be killed off with the first was sealed with the second as the Fulham resistance crumbled. The third indicated the problems of a makeshift defence, issues that we can readily identify with. Walcott cross from the right, the ball pinged off the calf, knee and ankles of the Fulham back four before Baird stepped in to decisively fire the ball into the net. A pity that he put it into his own net such was the authority of his effort. Good to see though that he had the presence of mind to berate his team-mates for their part in his downfall.
Fulham briefly came to life as the interval approached. Okaka evaded Campbell to shoot whilst Nevland hit the bar with a header but the threat diminished, Roy Hodgson probably certain in his mind that none of the starters yesterday did anything to cause any tinkering on Wednesday night.
Both Arsenal players on the scoresheet had opportunities to increase the lead whilst both sides might have had a penalty on any other day. In the end, another maligned player finished the days efforts, Carlos Vela applied what is now a trademark finish, an exquisite chip over Schwarzer, a reminder to doubters of the unarguable quality the young Mexican possesses.
An season of extreme highs and lows has finished. Trophyless which is ultimately disappointing but with enough promise to be short of despair. At times the football on display was exquisite, a signal to the rest of the world of the capabilities of this squad. On others, the weaknesses were ruthlessly exposed, particularly in the ‘big matches’.
Injuries have ultimately wrecked the campaign. Not just the quantity but because of the personnel involved. Some players are irreplacable, and removing them from the action severely weakened the team on occasion. That the squad fell out of contention, only to haul themselves back after defeats in crucial top four clashes is indicative of the huge mental strength they possess.
That only four points out of a possible twenty four from the fixtures against the rest of the top five shows the steps for improvement next season but also the freakish nature of those encounters this season; I cannot recall a time when results have gone so badly in those matches.
New faces are hinted at arriving before the World Cup starts, I am sure some will have gone by then as well. The quandry for Wenger is how many players he needs to cover should the injury catastrophe strike once more.
The players deserve credit for the improvement on last season, which did happen despite what some will tell you. When they return from summer ventures, the pre-season is the opportunity to work on the faults and enhance the good points.