Goal-shy Gunners compound Wenger's worries
Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
Monday 02 March 2009
Seldom can a 13-match unbeaten run have been less celebrated than Arsenal's current sequence. They and Manchester United are the only two teams not to have lost in the League since the turn of the year which, in the not-too-distant past, would have seen the pair march in lock-step through a nail-biting title run-in.
Not so these days. Arsenal started the weekend 18 points worse off than they were at the same stage last season and finished it 16 adrift of leaders United. Saturday's goalless draw was their fourth in succession in the Premier League and, as Arsène Wenger himself conceded, represented "a serious blow" to their chances of finishing in the Champions League places.
A sense of anticipation and excitement used to settle on Arsenal fans as kick-off approached, so exhilarating was their football. Sixty thousand still fill the Emirates in the hope, rather than expectation, of seeing the current crop of players reach that level.
Wenger has called the supporters impatient and indeed it is absurd that a youthful, heavily-depleted side should be booed off as they were on Saturday, just days after defeating Roma in the Champions League. Afterwards, Wenger said: "I don't know whether supporters are losing faith. That is not my worry. What is important is that we show great attitude and do our job as well as we can. Fans turning on me doesn't worry me, no. Not at all."
But there are real concerns that Wenger does not have, even when everyone is fit, the right mix to again match United. West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and now Fulham have denied Arsenal a goal, their longest barren spell since George Graham's team hit a sticky patch in 1994. The Fulham manager, Roy Hodgson had enough confidence to instruct his players to take the game to the Gunners. They did and might have won away to their north London rivals for the first time in their history but for some poor finishing.
"We came of age today," Hodgson boasted afterwards. "We took a point and by no means was it a siege mentality that we adopted. We tried to play when we had the ball." Mark Schwarzer excelled in goal, brilliantly keeping out a header and a shot from Robin van Persie in the first half and denying Abou Diaby and Andrey Arshavin in the second. In front of him, centre-half Brede Hangeland was immense, Danny Murphy orchestrated the midfield and Andrew Johnson always threatened up front.
Arshavin produced flashes of quality before tiring but the best piece of skill came from Johnson after nine minutes when he spun around Kolo Touré but shot narrowly wide.
"I am concerned," said Wenger. On the bright side, he will have Theo Walcott back in training today. "We will see how he behaves with challenges," he added. The challenge of revitalising Arsenal is the key.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Almunia; Sagna (Eboué, 69), Touré, Gallas, Clichy; Denilson, Diaby; Arshavin, Nasri, Vela (Bendtner, 62); Van Persie. Substitutes not used: Ramsey, Song, Djourou, Fabianski (gk), Gibbs.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird (Stoor, h-t), Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Davies, Etuhu, Murphy, Dempsey (Gera, 86); Zamora, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Nevland, Kamara, Dacourt, Zuberbuhler (gk), Kallio.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Man of the match: Schwarzer.
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