Mannone proves a man on a mission for Wenger

Fulham 0 Arsenal 1
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The Independent Football

Vito Mannone's performance against Fulham on Saturday was simply remarkable. Arsenal's inexperienced Italian goalkeeper made save after save to deny Fulham's strikers, including one with his face, of which he had the good humour afterwards to say it had "made me a little bit uglier".

At the final whistle at Craven Cottage, he was embraced by each one of his grateful team-mates. But life has not been easy for young Vito in London. He arrived at Arsenal in the summer of 2005 at the age of 16 from Atalanta during a terrible period of his life following the death of his father just a month earlier.

Mannone revealed in an interview that his father's death has been an extra motivating factor for making his career at Arsenal a success. He told the club's website: "It was always my father's dream I would become a professional footballer at a club like Arsenal. It is for him that I am going to do everything I can to fulfil that dream."

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, believes Mannone's experience of moving to London with his mother in the midst of grieving for his father made him a stronger character.

Wenger said: "It was not easy, he has only his mother, and of course then it was, certainly at the start, difficult for him. But when a player goes abroad and resists, at such a young age, to go back, and works very hard without playing, it's no better education for his mental strength.

"And he went through that experience and kept working. He has a belief in himself and you do not want to make a star of him with one game, but you have to say he has quality."

His father would have certainly been proud of his son's flawless performance on Saturday. Mannone, 21, seems a real find for Wenger. At 6ft 3in he is an imposing figure, but he is also blessed with remarkable reflexes and agility. Mannone made wonderful blocks to keep out Andrew Johnson (twice), Zoltan Gera, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora. His favourite was a double save in the first half, when he beat away Johnson's header and then blocked Clint Dempsey's volley with his face.

Afterwards Mannone said: "It gave me a lot of confidence. It hit me in the face so it has made me a little bit uglier. That's the best game I've played."

Arsenal were outplayed for large parts of the match as Fulham's midfield four squeezed them of any space. The visitors made uncharacteristic errors across the pitch. Fulham, however, could not find a way past Mannone and were eventually caught on the counter-attack in the 52nd minute. Paul Konchesky's misplaced pass put Fulham under pressure and Cesc Fabregas capitalised with a sumptuous ball to Robin van Persie.

The Dutchman has been critical of himself in recent weeks for not scoring enough, but the way he controlled the ball and fired a low shot into the far corner suggested plenty of goals are around the corner. The move was swift, decisive, and devastating for Fulham, but it was just enough to secure the points.

Mannone said: "I came here when I was very young, 15 when I did a trial, 16 when I came here and started my season. I have grown a lot and work hard to be here."

The Fulham manager, Roy Hodgson, cut a miserable figure after seeing his side outplay Arsenal, but still slip into the bottom four. Scoring goals is a major problem for Fulham, who have just four from six Premier League games. Hodgson defended his strikers, saying: "I'm really rather happy with the way Zamora and Johnson are playing together and if they can continue the next 30-odd games they'll create a lot problems for other defences, perhaps defences a little bit weaker than Arsenal's."

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Duff (Gera, 9), Murphy, Etuhu (Greening, 83), Dempsey; A Johnson, Zamora. Substitutes not used: Zuberbühler (gk), Baird, Kamara, Riise, Smalling.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Mannone; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Diaby; Bendtner, Van Persie (Eboué, 83), Arshavin (Roskicky, 69) Substitutes not used: Szczesny (gk), Vela, Ramsey, Silvestre, Gibbs.

Referee:: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Fulham Murhpy, Zamora, Pantsil, Konchesky. Man of the match: Mannone.

Attendance: 25,700.