Match Review: Arsenal 3 – 3 Fulham, What went wrong?…

So close but in reality quite far from the polished performance we were hoping for. Fulham controlled the first half adopting their typical style of keeping possession in their own half with the occasional forray up our left wing, tempting Arsenal to come and get the ball. It worked but not the way that Fulham had hoped as we managed to score twice against the run of play, the first off our only attack forward and the resultant corner(a case of quality over quantity) and the second from catching a player in possession deep in his own half. However it didn’t last and it’s notable that once again the mistakes came from our left wing where Vermaelen was at left back. Podolski once again failed to track back properly giving Vermaelen too much work to do on numerous occasions and the inevitable crosses found their mark and cost us dearly. Podolski also gave away the foul(and a string of others!) for their first goal and in general didn’t have a great game despite scoring.

On the second goal I really feel that Mannone should’ve kept that out, a header from 15 yards out can only travel so fast and he had plenty of time to react to it and make a proper diving attempt rather than falling sideways and fumbling at it and I will be very glad when Szczesny is back between the posts for us. If I was too get overly critical you could say he should’ve also come for the corner that Berbatov scored their first from as it was in the six yard box which is the keeper’s territory on corners. Defensively speaking though, it’s clear that teams recognise our left wing as being the more vulnerable area to attack us from, hopefully the return of Kieran Gibbs into the side will help to change this. In the middle Arsenal looked a little dis-jointed with Fulham applying plenty of pressure on us, Ruiz in particular was a large physical problem for the team to deal with and it would’ve been nice to have Diaby available to manhandle him a little. I’ve chosen to use heatmaps in this review to really illustrate the problems we had in this game and why we didn’t have a better result.Firstly a comparison of the way our two wings operated in this match and the 1st thing I notice is the lack of effort in defense by both wingers. Walcott in general tracks back well and helps out Sagna and in the first half of the season Podolski did this also. In this match however Walcott was purely offensive playing high up the pitch, pinning back Riise and trying to beat the offside trap while Podolski was content to stay pretty much in midfield and not make strong runs to the corner. The comparison between Sagna and Vermaelen shows the difference between a truly professional fullback and a center back playing out of his comfort zone. Sagna ran up and down the wing tirelessly all game, creating overlaps for Walcott and covering his marker in defense, whereas Vermaelen tried to stay near the halfway line and influence play from there, occasionally cutting inwards in attack and dropping very deep in defense. Looking at the charts it’s probably a good thing that Fulham didn’t try to expose our right wing as well as the defensive performance that Walcott usually produces(and makes up for his attacking inconsistency!) was sorely lacking in this match.

Now for the game changer and the reason why we looked far better once Ramsey came on despite scoring goals in the first half, Coquelin’s movement, or lack thereof. In this game I was expecting that with Coquelin in midfield, given that he’s defensive minded Arteta would be able to push further forward and influence play more by linking up closely with Cazorla. I could not have been more wrong. The heatmap shows it plainly, rather than staying deep and defending the back 4, Coquelin chose to hold position on the half way line and remain static. This resulted in Arteta having to run back and forth all match, both influencing play in attack and defending deeper than the supposedly defensive minded Coquelin. Coquelin’s lack of involvement in this match borders on criminal when you compare the stats above. This is not how a double pivot works and this is why we failed to control the midfield and create more chances in the first half. Add to that Cazorla was again forced to drop deep to get the ball because of this and we went back to playing in a 4-5-1 isolating Giroud somewhat and it’s to Giroud’s credit that his massive workrate allowed him to still be such a focal point up front for us in the center forward position. A lot of people will say that Ramsey made mistakes and was dispossessed often but what he did do right is give us drive going forwards, even if it didn’t win the game for us. He provided the offensive thrust that Coquelin just couldn’t do and eased the workload on Arteta.

Ok so that takes care of the negatives for this match apart from Arteta’s penalty miss which to be honest was a harsh penalty in the first place. The inconsistency of the refereeing in this match was laughable however it was balanced ie bad towards both teams. Podolski could’ve easily seen red in the first half for about 4 poorly timed tackles that went unpunished and it was hilarious for me when Phil Dowd reached to his back pocket(where the red card is) to send off Sidwell for a second yellow, only to realise that he was THE ONLY PLAYER on the pitch that he’d bothered to card despite the challenges flying in and changed his mind last second, issuing Ramsey a yellow instead for holding the man on the ball. The handball at the end was similarly poor judgement as the player had his arms by his side and didn’t play at the ball so if it had been scored it would’ve been harsh on Fulham. The fact that Arteta missed was no less than we deserved in this game although 3 points would’ve been nice and I don’t blame him for the miss either as it was well struck and Schwarzer produced a very fine save to keep it out. Schwarzer is quite well known for saving penalties so it didn’t come as a huge suprise. The thing I truly loved about both the penalty given away and the one missed is the grief-stricken reaction from Arteta. This guy truly bleeds red and white and really loves the club. If half the players on the pitch felt the same way we wouldn’t have these problems to begin with.

So on to the positives. Gibbs is returning to the side next week and with opposing teams targeting his wing as our biggest weakness it will be nice to have a true fullback to influence the attack and defense again. His chemistry with Podolski can also not be overlooked and hopefully Podolski will return to the sparkling form he showed us at the start of the season when most people thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. Szczesny in goal again will likewise boost the side, giving confidence to our back 4 as well as putting a stop to cheap goals being conceded(he definitely would’ve saved goal no.2). Ramsey and Chamberlain have both recovered from knocks and add much needed depth to our team and the other bonus is Wilshere returning from suspension and the man who lifted us last season, Tomas Rosicky reportedly fit to play again at long last. In this match, Arsenal seemed to regain their scoring ability somewhat and a lot of it is down to Giroud up front. This man just keeps getting better and better for us and the more the players learn his style of play, the more he will continue to impress us. Walcott in particular should be able to make good use of him with low dangerous crosses whipped into the six yard box.

Overall I don’t see the need to panic just yet, we managed to score two goals while being outplayed in the first half and then failed to win the game when we played better in the second which is more amusing than anything else. Gibbs impact on the team cannot be underestimated and I expect us to play a lot better next week when we host our lily-white nemesis in the form of Tottenham Hotspurs. I do think however that players like Arteta, Podolski and Cazorla(our absolutely key players!) are in much need of a few matches off to rest. The fatigue of having played nearly every minute for Arsenal so far this season is clearly showing in their increased errors and less dominant performances and is key to getting our season back on track. Lastly Koscielny and Mertesacker did quite well in this match despite the goals conceded and with Gibbs returning at left back I’m rather hoping that Vermaelen doesn’t replace him in the center back position once more as it’s clear which one is in better form at the moment. Nevermind the captain’s armband, rest Vermaelen and give the armband to Arteta!

A much need weeks rest and then Spurs next, let’s give em hell and show them there’s only one club in North London!

Come On You Gunners!

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Fulham

So after a frustrating mid-week in Germany we host Fulham at the Emirates. Fulham have 1 win in their last 5 and are in worse form than we are. They’ve had little trouble scoring in their games but defensively they’ve been very poor so considering that we’ve had trouble scoring lately and been reasonably solid in defense, it is on paper an interesting contest. Fulham have been particulalry vulnerable to attacks down the wings this season and it’s a real pity that Gibbs will not feature in this match as their right back Riether is a weak point that can be exposed and Damien Duff infront of him is susceptible to giving away fouls and making errors. During our mid-week game Santos was benched in favour of Vermaelen at left back and while he offered nothing going forwards, he did help tighten up our defense a little. But this will not help us to expose Riether so we must look to the right wing where Walcott vs Riise promises to be an intriguing battle. In the center is where Fulham are strongest although that’s not to say we can’t outplay them here as well, I just think it’s more prudent to attack down our right wing with the combination of Sagna and Walcott.

The center poses quite the conundrum in this game since Fulham’s strongest play is through the center. Our own midfield is diminished with Wilshere suspended and Ramsey doubtful. On top of this Cazorla needs rest and has been less effective in recent matches although a lot of this is due to teams pressuring our play-linking players like Arteta. I think Wenger will deploy Coquelin next to Arteta in the double pivot and the interesting part of this is that Coquelin is more defensive minded, tending to hold his position and use long balls to the forwards and wings for his passing output. To this end I’m hoping it will allow Arteta to advance further forward and influence the play and if this happens, Fulham could be in a very hard afternoon since his vision and passing is second in the team only to Cazorla. The idea of seeing Arteta playing closer to Cazorla is quite mouth watering, with Walcott running into space behind the lines. I am however a little worried about how effective Giroud will be up front since their defense is ideal for stopping him, they win the balls in the air a lot but do tend to stand off a bit and for this reason I’d like to see Giroud drop a little deeper to his normal positioning and shoot fron range a few times. Likewise Cazorla should put their keeper under some pressure with some long range attempts.

Speaking of long range attempts, Fulham are fans of this approach as well and with the likes of Berbatov and Rodellega up front I’m sure they’ll be doing plenty of that. Our defense will really need to be on their toes and Mertesacker in particular will have to close down players looking to line up a shot, a bit quicker than he normally does. Fulham also pose a threat off corners although I’m less and less concerned about this these days, Duff and Hangeland are big threats in the air that will need to be marked on corners and set pieces however. Fulham are known for being clinical with their chances so if we’re not keyed up in defense expect our team to be punished. I’m rather hoping Wenger puts Szczesny back between the posts for this one since I feel any loose balls spilled by Mannone from their long range attempts could be gobbled up by a predatory striker like Berbatov.

Fulham Danger Men: Rodellega, Berbatov, Hangeland(from set pieces).

Result Prediction: Unlikely we’ll keep a clean sheet but the players will keen to improve from mid-week and Fulham are pretty horrid at protecting a lead. If we score one we’ll get another so I’ll say 3-1 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Mannone, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Sagna, Podolski, Arteta, Coquelin, Walcott, Cazorla, Giroud.

Conclusion: Fulham will look to keep the ball in their own half and hit us hard if we commit too many bodies forward. Arsenal will look to control the middle without over-committing, the weak combo of Vermaelen and Podolski on the left should ensure that our play is channeled through the right wing of Walcott. Expect a pretty stale contest until the second half when the game should open up.

An added bonus this week will be that we hopefully get to see Tomas Rosicky return to the team as a sub. Oh and as always,

Come On You Gunners!