Fulham supporters, especially those of a statistical bent, making their way along the Thames path through Bishop's Park yesterday afternoon could have been forgiven a little apprehension. The prospect of starting a Premier League season with two defeats for the first time appeared to be a real one after last week's loss at Hull; not for 15 matches had their team won a London derby, and the record against Arsenal was almost as poor.
Long before the final whistle, however, it was clear that this was anything but the usual mighty North London side, who were sent back home with tails firmly between legs. Particularly lightweight in midfield, they lacked any sort of physical presence and even the normally precise passing was often askew. Poor marking let them down as well in falling to a set-piece goal from the gangling centre-half Brede Hangeland midway through the first half.
"What we did today was just not good enough," their manager Arsène Wenger admitted. "The vision and technical quality were not there but you have to give credit to Fulham."
Even without Andy Johnson, who has not yet been fit enough for a debut, Fulham again looked a more cohesive unit than the one that somehow avoided relegation with three successive victories at the end of lastseason. Roy Hodgson comfortably won the award for the busiest manager of the summer, bringing 10 players in and shifting 13 out. "I've seen today the Fulham that can play with composure and also the Fulham that can produce fightingspirit when backs are against the wall," he said.
Zoltan Gera, signed from West Bromwich Albion, regularly looked to play in another new recruit, Bobby Zamora, and after the former West Ham United striker was halted only by Kolo Touré's lunging tackle the resulting corner produced a goal. Jimmy Bullard, excellent in midfield, played a short return pass to Danny Murphy to create an angle for the cross that Norway's new captain Hangeland slid past the goalkeeper Manuel Almunia with minimal challenge from any defender.
With neither Cesc Fabregas nor the new defensive signing from Manchester United, Mikaël Silvestre, quite match fit, and Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby and Eduardo da Silva still absent, Arsenal did not force a single difficult save from the Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Robin van Persie, back in the side for Nicklas Bendtner, wasted the best of their few scoring opportunities, knocking Samir Nasri's pass wide. Emmanuel Adebayor curled a shot wide and clipped the outside of a post with a header beforehalf-time but Fulham otherwise looked comfortable until the frantic last few minutes.
The way Zamora muscled Gaël Clichy off the ball early in the second half illustrated both the home side's determination and their opponents' worrying lack of physical power, which Wenger tried to remedy by sending on Bendtner for the ineffective Theo Walcott. Fulham may have had no heavyweights in midfield either, but Murphy and Bullard frequently had too much guile for Denilson and Emmanuel Eboué in central areas. On the hour Murphy's astute pass sent Seol Ki-Hyeon down the left and Zamora, beating William Gallas to the cross, slid it wide.
The worry for Fulham was that Van Persie, with Adebayor and now Bendtner ahead of him, had no natural defensive midfielder to pick him up as he dropped into the hole behind them. In the 68th minute the Dutchman was unmarked as he collected Sagna's square pass and drove it just wide. Murphy and his replacement Andranik Teymourian were both booked for bringing down Eboué as he charged through but Van Persie could do nothing with the free-kicks, and Fulham had a famous victory.Reuse content