Fulham 2 – 2 Arsenal
1 – 0 Sidwell (26)
1 – 1 van Persie (29)
2 – 1 Zamora (56)
2 – 2 Walcott (89)
Gera sent off (74)
And so the season is over. A match that had the intensity of a training session took place down by the River Thames yesterday, one which you would not have believed that Arsenal had to win in order to have any chance of finishing third. Fourth place was accepted beforehand and it duly arrived.
As funny as it is to see Birmingham City slip into the Championship – now you know how it feels to lose a cup final in the last minute – Arsenal’s form since that fateful February encounter has been no better which for a team that had title aspirations, is simply not good enough.
Fulham started brightly yet seemed to content to take advantage of the windy conditions, the long ball style of play that symbolises Mark Hughes managerial career came to the fore. Consequently, possession was surrendered cheaply and frequently.
Arsenal probed and created the first chance of the day, the aerial threat possessed by Kieran Gibbs has been well disguised throughout his career. The youngster though brought a fine save from Mark Schwarzer.
As Arsenal threatened to take the ascendency; Fulham scored. Zamora found space on the right and waited until the right moment, Sidwell provided that and the finish.
It was joy for the hosts that was short-lived. Diaby combined with Chamakh, the Moroccan pinged a pass to van Persie whose instant control and shot were too good for the Fulham defence. Had the Dutchman been fit for a whole season, little doubt he would have been top scorer in the Premier League. Keeping him fit for the whole season is the problem.
If van Persie has shown the striking missed before Christmas, Vermaelen did so with the defending. Murphy’s effort was tantalising its way into the net before the Belgian intervened on the goalline, sending the ball around the post. It is a matter of attitude, of not wanting to give up, refusing to concede cheaply. Vermaelen is not the perfect defender nor is he a guarantee of a clean sheet; his is the attitude that the team need to follow suit with.
The lack of urgency in Arsenal’s play continued into the second half. Nasri tested Schwarzer from a free kick but it proved a false dawn as Zamora climbed to meet Greening’s cross, beating Vermaelen in the air to restore the host’s lead.
Lack of match play is a reason oft-cited as forwards miss relatively straightforward chances. We’ll give Chamakh the benefit of the doubt for his miss following Schwarzer’s butterfingers. Lack of match play is the reason that Nicklas Bendtner has apparently joined Denilson in stating his desire to leave Arsenal. His father, no slouch when it comes to Junior’s PR, states that Germany is his likely destination. I suspect he might have scored yesterday though. Junior, that is, not Daddy.
A player scorned though, should not be underestimated. Wenger’s hand was played, a triple substitution that was to pay handsome dividends late on, but Mark Hughes trump card spectacularly backfired. Zoltan Gera is apparently being shown the door this summer, he left the pitch three minutes after entering as a substitute for Zamora. Fulham will no doubt be looking for an enhanced transfer fee if his red card is to deprive the club of Europa League football via the Fair Play Table.
Superior numerical advantage turned into superior possession. Arsenal might have struggled in recent months when the chips were down but this time, it came good when Walcott’s shot bounced off the post and into the net with a minute of normal time remaining. Could he be the answer for coming seasons if (or when) van Persie is absent?
A draw was of little use considering Manchester City’s win. Qualifying for the Champions League is not an issue – unless it involves a trip to Dynamo Kiev or Ruben Kazan. Even then the issue is more of distance and lag than the football itself.
Perhaps though it will have one beneficial effect. A busy start to the season is a good incentive for Arsenal’s transfer business to be conducted quickly. Let’s hope that it is, if nothing else to put a brighter complexion on the summer.