"If Arsenal play like this on Wednesday, then Real Madrid have got no chance." That was the verdict of Chris Coleman, after his Fulham side had been handed what was comfortably their biggest - and only their third - home defeat of the season.
Comparisons between the Spanish side and the west Londoners usually begin and end with a mostly white shirt but they have now both been guilty of allowing Arsenal to play exactly how they want.
The result in both cases for the Gunners was the same, a deserved victory that should have been by a far greater margin. The 1-0 win Arsenal pulled off two weeks ago in the first leg of their Champions' League last 16 match at the Bernabeu Stadium should have been two or three times better. It is no exaggeration to say that they could have beaten Fulham by eight, had it not been for the excellence of Tony Warner in the home goal.
From the evidence both here at Craven Cottage and a fortnight ago, it is easy to conclude that Arsenal are still a force when allowed to play their flowing football, with Thierry Henry and Fredrik Ljungberg at their most devastating. Coleman said of Henry's display: "That was one of the best individual performancers I've ever seen."
The mystery is why Arsène Wenger's men were given the space and time to do as they pleased. Everyone now knows you just have to adopt an approach like Bolton and Blackburn, press them all over the pitch and make your presence felt in every tackle. Results away from home have shown that Arsenal have no answer. However, away games in London have been more profitable for them, as they have only lost at Chelsea this season.
Coleman even admitted he had been practising such a strategy, which appeared to be forgotten by his players as soon they kicked off. Add to that the fact that Ljungberg and Henry realised they could make their former team-mate Moritz Volz's life a misery at right-back and therein lay the key to this morale-boosting win.
That was certainly how Wenger saw it, ahead of what is likely to be a far harder workout at Highbury in two days' time, when Madrid return for the second leg of their last-16 European tie. He said: "Confidence-wise, it's a good basis to prepare like this for a game like the one on Wednesday. Belief will be important. Mental sharpness and the confidence of the whole team, all that was helped by today."
However, wary of any creeping complacency in a side that still has only one first-choice defender in place, Wenger warned against people speculating Arsenal could actually win this competition for the first time in their history. "Let's finish the job on Wednesday night first, before we think about winning the Champions' League," he said. "I am confident we can do it and that we will do it. We are a little bit more under pressure to finish the job and Real Madrid are under pressure, too. That's why it is an interesting game."
The Spaniards' approach will have to be more forceful than in their first meeting. Yet Coleman feels that, even if they wanted to, Madrid are not equipped to play like a Bolton or Blackburn. What is sure is they will be compelled to take the game to Arsenal and that should leave spaces for Henry and Ljungberg to exploit once more.
Cicinho left his right-back post exposed a fortnight ago and clearly Henry, who now has 22 goals this season, is in the mood to attack that area. In the first half he beat Volz on the outside and then smashed his shot past Warner at his near post. He also danced into that favourite space of his to curl in his second.
Emmanuel Adebayor's second goal for his new club was well-taken from Ljungberg's through ball and Cesc Fabregas' final effort from short range was the least Arsenal deserved after also forcing Warner into four excellent saves. Meanwhile, Fulham only managed one shot on target. "We were rank," admitted Coleman.
Arsenal will hope Real Madrid will be as compliant. They shouldn't hold their breath.
Goals: Henry (31) 0-1; Adebayor (35) 0-2; Henry (77) 0-3; Fabregas (86) 0-4.
Fulham (4-4-2): Warner; Volz, Knight, Goma, Rosenior; Radzinski, Elliott, Malbranque, Boa Morte; McBride, Helguson (John, 62). Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Bocanegra, Elrich, N Jensen.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Senderos, Flamini; Hleb (Fabregas, 80), Diaby, Gilberto Silva, Ljungberg; Henry (Reyes, 84), Adebayor (Bergkamp, 72). Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Djourou.
Bookings: Arsenal: Diaby.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire)
Man of the match: Henry.
* Arsène Wenger has not ruled out the possibility of his French midfielder Robert Pires staying at Arsenal, despite the player's desire for a two-year contract. Wenger only offers one-year deals to players over 30 and Pires is 32. Pires' contract runs out this summer and Wenger said: "It's not inevitable he will leave this summer - he can make the choice. I want him to stay. We have such a young squad that his experience can help us. He wants more than one more year but I will remain faithful to our policy."Reuse content