If you were to describe yesterday’s game in one word what would it be? For me? Routine.
More possession (59% – 41%), more attempts both on and off target (22 to 8), more chance of us scoring than Fulham, exactly what we deserved on a balmy January afternoon at The Emirates. We came, we saw, we dispatched with little fuss. Oh if only every opponent that rocked up at The Emirates had the same lack of desire to get into our half. ‘Twould be a nice easy stroll to the Premier League crown and that’s no mistake.
Nothing summed up Fulham’s lack of creativity going forward than Dimitar Berbatov who, when not shrugging his shoulders or holding his arms out in frustration, cut a relatively solitary figure alone up front for most of the game. Fulham fans may have been happy to see the re-arrival of Clint Dempsey to their team, but on yesterday’s display they are in trouble and no amount of returning hero-worship will keep them from being embroiled in a serious relegation scrap.
The day started in usual fashion for this here Gooner, a trip to the Tollington to meet Brock, one of the founder members of the Official Arsenal Supporters Club of Charleston, South Carolina. He was an Emirates virgin until yesterday so it was nice to be able to play a small part in a unique first experience for somebody in the world of The Arsenal. As we pondered over the expected team line up, the news quickly filtered through that Monreal was starting ahead of Gibbs and that despite his lack of visibility in training on Friday, Jack was fit to start alongside the Flamster. Welcome news indeed given the fact we’ve had players breaking down with injuries left, right and centre since Christmas. Up top the sharp end of the team featured the direct running of Gnabry, the close control and twinkle toes of Cazorla, the vision and craft of Ozil and the hold up and link play of Giroud. Expectation of a high scoring match was high and within the first ten minutes we were offered a glimmer of the cricket score I’d asked for on Twitter hours before the match. Great interchanges of triangle passing set Ozil away on the right and as he got into the box and flicked the ball beyond Stekelekerlekerlekerlekenberg I thought it was only a matter of time before we opened the floodgates.
But it never really seemed to happen in the first half after that. We never seemed to get going. Some of the passing was a little bit lackadaisical and although Fulham had spells of popping the ball around, it felt to me like a bit of a non-event in the first half. Sidwell did force Sczcesny into a smart save, but having watched the Match of the Day commentator call it a brilliant save last night when I got home, I couldn’t help but wonder if the overreaction from the commentator said more about the chances and overall action of both sides, rather than the actual difficulty of the save.
But whilst the first half was tinged with frustration, I never really felt like this was a game we weren’t going to win, especially after the first ten minutes of the second half. It almost felt as if the players knew that they could turn it up a gear in the second half and really only wanted to play one 45 of football, so they saw the first half out before upping it in the second, for which the reward was a goal from Santi almost on the stroke of the hour. It had been coming to be fair, because Gnabry had forced a smart save from and Koscienly had a point blank shot saved too, so when Jack cut the ball back to Cazorla almost on the penalty spot for the diminutive Spaniard to prod home, the game was all but done and dusted now we look back on it.
But, as with all things in football, you have to make the game safe and we did so just five minutes later. A ball in from Monreal was headed away by one of the Fulham centre backs, but only as far as the edge of the D where Cazorla took a touch and stroke the ball home. I don’t know about you, but it seemed to take an age to actually reach the net, but nobody in red and white will be complaining, because at 2-0 and with the defence that we have as strong as they’ve been, the game was sewn up. We saw out the rest of the game and picked up a deserved three points to keep us top.
That’s two out of two of the key games that we’ve got through with maximum points and next up in the league will be Southampton away, which will be a real tough one, but if we can win that and Palace at home then hopefully we’ll have built a cushion for when we visit Anfield in February.
A couple of individual performances and thoughts on specific players. Firstly, Lukas Podolski. He came on with about 20 minutes to go and had an almost immediate impact, crashing a ferocious shot against the post, but other than that I thought he seemed on the periphery of the game for his whole appearance. I know it’s sacrilege to seem to criticise a player that is clearly so well liked by everyone involved in the club, but I would have expected him to be a bit more direct and trying to get into attacking positions in and around the box. But he seemed to just drift out wide and when our central attacking players picked up the ball in the middle of the park, he didn’t look to make any kind of darting run but instead just stood static. It was the first time I’ve understood perhaps why Arsene isn’t giving him as much game time as Poldi would like. If you consider who the experience German replaced in Gnabry, Arsene could have quite easily deployed Santi on the right and played Podolski on the left, but he chose to go with Podolski’s younger compatriot. Who, by the way, had another really good game. He worked the Fulham keeper, offered a decent outlet on the right and his direct running at Richardson gave him something to think about all game.
A bit of praise should also be reserved for Santi too. He’s struggled for form and fitness after an amazing first season last year, but there are signs – including yesterday – that we’re starting to get our tiny little Spaniard back. Much like I said about Wilshere on the blog a few days ago, it’s coming at the perfect time as well.
Anyway, that’s it from me today, so enjoy your Sunday safe in the knowledge that we are top of the league, say we are top of the league.