Fulham 0 Arsenal 3: Arsenal's head for heights leaves Hodgson feeling low

Togo's loss is Wenger's gain as air force of Adebayor sinks Fulham
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The Independent Online

It might seem churlish to use the description "lucky Arsenal" on an afternoon they dominated to a near-embarrassing extent. But, having sent a batch of players to the African Nations Cup, which gets under way this weekend, they are, without doubt, fortunate that Togo's failure to qualify has left Emmanuel Adebayor free to continue his predatory ways.

With Robin van Persie also out of action for three weeks Arsenal would have been stretched for strikers if Adebayor had been away in Africa. No doubt, as they habitually do, Arsenal would have managed nicely, but the presence of their lucky charm sealed a thoroughly satisfactory afternoon and left them still level on points with Manchester United at the head of the Premier League. Adebayor has now scored 15 this season and, since he joined them, Arsenal have never lost a match in which he has got a goal: played 26, won 22, drawn four.

At times Fulham played as if they were only too aware of this crushing statistic: one decent shot in the first half and a headed effort in the second rightly disallowed for offside.

Having assessed what he has inherited since taking over at Craven Cottage, Roy Hodgson sensibly opted to send for reinforcements. Alas, none arrived in time to qualify for action yesterday. The nearest was a touchline appearance, flourishing his new shirt, by the 6ft 5in Norwegian central defender, Brede Hangeland, who retreated to the stands to witness the humiliation when his presence on the pitch seemed exactly what Fulham lack at the moment. Both Adebayor's goals were headers struck as he sailed high above all the white shirts, what his manager, Arsène Wenger, described as "unbelievable jumps".

While he awaits the arrival of the January transfer window's equivalent of the Seventh Cavalry, Hodgson opted to cram his midfield in the hope of stifling Arsenal's creativity. Some hope, even with the wise heads of Danny Murphy and Alexei Smertin involved. It tookArsenal 15 minutes to suss Fulham's tactics and another four minutes to torpedo them.

The answer? If the midfield is crowded, use the wings and sling over centres. All the goals arrived that way, which Wenger agreed was "unusual for us, though it shows we have variety in our game". The fact that Arsenal did not use a single substitute was because "they were not needed, really", said Wenger.

The ever-busy Gaël Clichy, whose excellence has rendered any wishful thinking about Ashley Cole's departure long redundant, hurtled down the left to produce the inviting centre which Adebayor headed down wide of Antti Niemi's left hand and into the bottom corner.

There still had not been a Fulham raid of any merit before the dose was repeated. It was preceded by a tackle on Cesc Fabregas from behind by Murphy which left the Arsenal midfielder writhing in the centre circle. Play was permitted to continue and from Alexander Hleb's cross, this time from the right, Adebayor punished Fulham again. Urged on by their angry fans, Fulham finally mounted an attack which saw Simon Davies get to the byline for a rolled cross which Murphy, arriving at speed, side-footed over the bar.

After the interval the biggest cheer greeted the arrival of Jimmy Bullard, long-injured cult figure and the hope of salvation in the minds of the supporters.

Before Bullard had got into gear Arsenal almost had a third, Eduardo da Silva's dazzling dribbling skills ending with a pass to Tomas Rosicky and a shot which clipped the outside of a post. There seemed a glimpse of hope for Fulham when Clint Dempsey's header from a Smertin cross found the net but he was one of three home players in an offside position.

Arsenal's third, nine minutes from time, was a gem, sparked by a marvellous ball from Fabregas to send Eduardo careering through for a low cross which Rosicky put away with a volley. Game, set and match.

Hodgson, as you mightexpect, is "confident and optimistic" that Fulham can escape the drop. "It is a work in progress but we need to be doing an awful lot of work," he admitted.

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