Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fulham 2 Arsenal 1

What hurts us more than the result is the fact that Fulham outplayed us. Our performance in the second half was poor, as bad as the one against Olympiacos, but the latter was by our second-string team, while apart from the makeshift full-backs, Monday night's starting XI were currently our best team. That's what concerns us.

In fact, the team selection was one of the major talking points ahead of and following this game. Rotation was widely expected, including RVP to get a rest, but Arsene Wenger opted for just two changes from the starting line-up that faced QPR 48 hours ago; namely Gervinho for Arshavin and Coquelin replacing injured Vermaelen. Unfortunately, Henry's loan deal is still awaiting completion, hence no return of the King. In the hindsight, Arsene Wenger should have rotated more players, including RVP, who looked exhausted in the second half. The fact that we had to rely on Robin when he clearly needed a rest highlights the lack of depth in the squad.

On the other hand, some fans blame for the players who couldn't deliver the expected performance for full 90 minutes. Is 48 hours not enough for players to recover from modern-day intense games?

What we don't understand is Wenger's reluctance to play Oxlade-Chamberlain. Surely he is a better option than Walcott at the moment. The boss seems to be worried about the 18-year old overawed by the intensity of the Premier League. Maybe this was because he felt that Chambo's confidence was dented after his lacklustre performance in the intense battle against Bolton in Carling Cup. However, he has experience in playing in big games, such as the FA Cup tie against Manchester United last season in a Southampton shirt. Carl Jenkinson, who is only a year older than him, was introduced to the intensity of the Premier League and even the Champions League qualifying straight from the non-league football (the last game he played before his move to Arsenal was for non-league Eastbourne side). Also, the ex-Southampton player are used to play in the lower division where games are even more physical than the Premier League. Besides, there are many teenage players already playing in the Premier League. A talented player like him should be able to cope with the vigour of England's top-flight games. If Wenger is waiting for a comfortable game to ease him into the life in the Premier League, his chance will never come, judging from the way Arsenal are currently playing! (When did you see Arsenal winning comfortably last time?)

Another young player Arsene Wenger seems reluctant to field is Ignasi Miquel. In the absence of the two recognised left-backs and following the injury to a makeshift left-back, Vermaelen, Miquel was favourite to play in this position ahead of the match. Instead, Wenger chose to play a central midfielder, Coquelin, once more at left-back. Although Coquelin played well until Fulham scored their second goal, we don't understand why Miquel doesn't get a chance to play. When Wenger brought a defensive substitution in place of Ramsey, it was Squillaci who came on the pitch. (We were horror-stricken at the sight of him on the touchline.)

If we have to give our players credit, that's for their first-half performance. There was some free-flowing football and they kept mounting pressure. Arsenal dominated the possession, but as usual, they failed to kill off the game.

Let's hope the second-half performance was just a one-off incident as a result of the fixture congestion during the festive season. As we go back to the weekly Premier League schedule, hopefully Arsenal will get back in winning ways. Keep fingers crossed that there will be no need of an FA Cup replay. Fortunately (or unfortunately), we are out of the Carling Cup competition for this season, which means our January fixtures are not as congested as the last season, with no two-legged semi-final matches.

The transfer window is now open. Henry's return is imminent. Hopefully, he will be able to take a goal-scoring pressure off RVP, but we still need a solution for our full-back crisis. Wenger is reluctant to make a permanent signing for full-backs as Sagna and Gibbs are both expected to return by the end of this month. The boss stated he would consider a loan deal for a left-back, but players clubs are willing to offer a loan deal for tend to be second-string players if not third-choices. Such players are not good enough for Arsenal even on a short-term basis. Wayne Bridge is one of the player who have been linked to Arsenal, but in my opinion, he is no longer a top-level player. He was far from impressive during his loan spell at West Ham in the second half of last season. He wouldn't be worth his wages, which wouldn't be cheap for a Manchester City player.

Gibbs is well-known as an injury-prone player and this season hasn't proven otherwise. Signing a versatile defender, who can play both at left-back and in central defence, such as Jan Vertonghen, is not such a bad idea (and get rid of Squillaci!).

Player ratings

Szczeny: 6
Made some good saves, including the one that denied Ruiz's close-range shot, but he admits his goalkeeping was poor for Fulham's equaliser. If he couldn't get to the ball, he might as well have stayed on line.

Djourou: 4
Got two yellow cards (I still think the second yellow card was a little bit too harsh, though) and sent off.

Mertesacker: 6
His unsuccessful challenge put pressure on Djourou and thus led to the right-back's dismissal.

Koscielny: 8
Solid defending. Scoring a goal was the icing on the cake.

Coquelin: 7
He often made forward runs and linked with Gervinho very well. The problem with playing centre-backs in the full-back positions is that our deputy full-backs (i.e., Vermaelen and Djourou) tend to drift into the middle, but in this game Coquelin provided the width. Overall he played well, despite playing out of position. Made a brave aerial challenge on Sidwell, but the head injury may have affected his performance later on. Where was he when Zamora scored the winning goal? The Fulham striker shouldn't have been left unmarked.

Ramsey: 7
He made a great run, providing a cross for Koscielny to head it home. Pulled the strings on attacking moves and worked hard, helping defence. His finishing still left much to be desired, but managed to put shots on target. Replaced by Squillaci at 81st minute.

Arteta: 6
Not involved great deal.

Song: 6
He couldn't break down Fulham attacks as much as we hoped.

Walcott: 4
Crossing, shooting, passing, everything he did was poor effort. He has been having a few poor games recently. It's time to start Chambo in his place.

Gervinho: 6
He works tirelessly, makes great runs, beats defenders and gets into the dangerous positions but he doesn't know what to do when he cannot find RVP in the box.

Van Persie: 6
He failed to conjure up the usual magic. In the second half, he spent most of time on the ground, probably looking for fouls, which we all knew would end up in vain with Lee Probert. Playing three games in the space of 6 days is too much for RVP. We should only be grateful for the fact that he didn't get injured.


Rosicky: 5
Replaced Walcott in the 65th minute to bring a fresh pair of legs into midfield, but failed to make a big difference (anybody was better than Walcott, though).

Benayoun: 5
74th-minute substitution for Gervinho. Made little impact.

Squillaci: 4
Came on in the 81st minute to replace Ramsey supposedly to shore up the defence, with the result that Arsenal conceded two goals within 8 minutes of each other, just 4 minutes after he had come on.


Lee Probert: 4
He gave few decisions in favour of us. Gervinho should have been given a penalty after his legs were swiped away by Senderos in the box. Even Martin Jol admitted that it should have been a penalty. Another bad decision which cost us expensively.

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