Arsenal 2 – 1 Fulham
1 – 0 Nasri (14)
1 – 1 Kamara (30)
2 – 1 Nasri (75)
Arsenal capitalised on another Chelsea stumble to ascend to the summit of the Premier League. A hard-earned but deserved victory was not achieved with the consumate ease that the opening thirty minutes suggested but nonetheless, it ended a mini-run of home defeats. Two moments of individual brillance have ensured the spotlight shines on Samir Nasri but more importantly they delivered the points.
An away victory over yesterday’s opponents was the trigger to top the table in 2001/02, a season which ended with the title returning to the club. That win was more clinical than this; the inhibitions of playing at home were there for all to see, striking indecision whilst the midfield was subdued and disjointed for large parts of the final hour.
Nasri though was not the only star. Johan Djourou arrived as a first half substitute, Laurent Koscielny’s replacement following a clash of heads, and was outstanding in defence. The year missed through injury is begining to look more costly than suspected at the time as once more the young Swiss was a rock in the centre as Fulham’s attempts to take points from this fixture became more direct.
Arsenal took the game to their London rivals. Time and again from the kick-off the hosts carved through the visitors defence, foundering as the pressure of playing at home stifled the finishing instincts of Arsenal’s talented forward line.
Before Nasri’s first mesmeric intervention, Arshavin and the Frenchman had wasted good opportunities, inaccuracy in their finishes kept the scoreboard untroubled. Amends would be made before fifteen minutes had passed. The duo combined on the edge of the area. Exhibiting exceptional confidence and close control, Nasri waltzed through the Fulham defence before rifling an stoppable shot into the top corner. Deadlock broken, a palpable sense of relief.
That should have signalled the floodgates opening but these are not the confident times of Summer’s late flourish. Wilshere could have shot but instead let the chance fall to Chamakh, who spurned the opportunity. Arshavin drew an uncomfortable save from Schwarzer, enjoying a better afternoon than a horror-show in May. That proved to be the case as he denied Nasri, clasping the ball to the safety of his midriff as Arshavin slid to pounce on any fumble.
Those misses would prove costly as Fulham equalised, a self-inflicted Arsenal wound. Koscielny and Squillaci went for the same ball, neither dominant enough to claim initial responsibility. The younger of the duo came off worst as his partner headed him in the face; groggy and disoriented, Koscielny had left space that Kamara exploited, feeding greedily on Dempsey’s pass to beat Fabianski.
Criticism came post-match that Chris Foy should have stopped play yet the apparent seriousness of the incident was not initially evident. Had Koscielny crumpled to the turf, play would surely have stopped. However, Foy would have been criticised for that decision as there was no Fulham player involved, any advantage accruing would have ceased through no fault of their own. That the defender did not render that a consideration is evidence of his concussion.
Before the interval, both sides would rue chances missed to take the lead. Sagna found Chamakh with an excellent cross, the Moroccan turning the ball at Schwarzer whilst Fabianksi stopped Kamara. The Pole is growing in stature with each game, finding it hard to win over his many critics entirely, odd instances in matches seized upon, diminishing the capable showing for the remainder of the game. Perhaps Wenger ending speculation over a Winter signing would help but it could equally tempt fate. A winner’s medal will perhaps be the only way to silence Fabianski’s detractors.
The second period commenced and resorted to the pattern of the first; Arsenal dominated by could not breach the visitor’s defence. Rosicky shot wide, the chance created by a muted and inconsistent Alex Song. The Cameroonian would blaze over with an angled drive, the shooting boots of recent months deserting him. Arshavin again was foiled by Schwarzer before the introduction of Robin van Persie for Tomas Rosicky added bite to the attack.
The Czech has been touted as the ‘natural’ replacement for Cesc whilst he is injured. Yesterday was an infuriatingly anonymous afternoon which did his cause in this respect no good. Fortunately there is a welter of evidence to contrary that Rosicky is capable of the creative role.
van Persie’s first telling contribution was not as expected, clearing off the line to prevent Fulham taking a hugely undeserved lead. Arsenal missed Denilson’s ability to retain possession with short, sensible passing to feed attacks. Yet the winner came from exactly that.
The Dutchman had a shooting opportunity, instead sliding the ball into Nasri’s path. Gliding through the defence and rounding Schwarzer with ease, Arsenal’s Player of the Season so far completed the balletic movement with a pirouette to turn the ball home from a tight angle. It was an outstanding finish, a goal by a player completely at ease with the ball and on top form, signalled by his calmness when English counterparts would suffer from a rush of blood.
A late intervention by Fabianski would prevent Gera from denying Arsenal top spot.
Top of the League in December is not a guarantee that the same will follow in May. The next three weeks are a good opportunity to take a giant stride in that direction with the fixtures that have to take place. In the meantime, let’s enjoy looking down on others.