Match report: Arsène Wenger refuses to get defensive as Arsenal's bad run becomes a habit after a remarkable 3-3 draw against Fulham
Arsenal 3 Fulham 3
Sunday 11 November 2012
After a remarkable 3-3 with so many goals, so many talking points and so many issues, one thing is absolutely clear: a poor run has now become a big problem for Arsenal.
At various points this season, Arsène Wenger has somewhat surprisingly spoken about how certain results have "psychologically damaged" his team. You would wonder what the effect of this will be.
In many ways, in fact, this was an acid test for the side's mental fortitude. Not only were Arsenal coming off the back of a bad run of form and playing a good team they would still be expected to beat at home, they had to contend with a comeback as well as so much more. Ultimately, they failed that test.
Not only that, Arsenal failed to pick up three points as well as any kind of momentum, continuing the impression that this is going to be a season characterised by continual stumbles rather than purposeful strides.
Afterwards, Wenger dismissed the idea that his team is filled with "self-doubt" and insisted there is a lot of potential. "We have shown before that we can fight. There are a lot of positives in our team. At the moment, we are not getting the performances we want. But there is good potential in our side."
He also played down Mikel Arteta's last-minute penalty miss as "part of the game", adding: "The positive is that we can score goals now but the negative is we conceded three goals at home."
With admirable understatement, then, Wenger said that "defensively, I don't think it was a historical performance".
Martin Jol, by contrast, was beaming. Even he, though, admitted to "mixed feelings". It summed up the match.
The first oddity of this generally bizarre game was that, despite the ultimate scoreline and all of the chaos of the second half, nothing much actually happened in the first 45 minutes beyond the goals.
Although it was 2-2 at half-time, it didn't feel like that kind of game. It did, however, confirm a lot of what we know about the two teams. Both can be great to watch going forward, but both have problems at the back.
All four early goals, after all, came from combinations of poor defensive play and admirable attacking opportunism. Take the first. Although Olivier Giroud superbly powered a header into the corner of the Fulham net from a Theo Walcott corner on 11 minutes, the marking was non-existent. Fulham weren't allowed to forget their own defensive issues, however, as they gave further examples of them within 12 minutes. Another mishap allowed Arteta to move into a gap, before he squared for Lukas Podolski to finish.
Fulham were granted a reprieve, though, by the fact Arsenal are every bit as suspect. As talk grows that the relationship between Steve Bould and Wenger isn't as strong as it was at the start of the season, ruptures in the backline were evident on the pitch today. For one thing, Arsenal can no longer lay claim to the best defence in the league, a stat that always seemed something of an early season illusion.
Any semblance of marking was also illusory, as Dimitar Berbatov easily nodded home the header that brought Fulham back into the game on 29 minutes. Eleven minutes later, he was charging down Arsenal's vulnerable left side to cross for substitute Alex Kacaniklic to equalise. There was a real sense that Fulham had spotted a vulnerability in Arsenal and were proactively targeting it.
The home side did come out energised in the second half, though, as affairs quickly picked up speed.
So much so, in fact, that Steve Sidwell was lucky to stay on the pitch having brought down Santi Cazorla just outside the box while on a second booking. Insult was added to injustice then when Fulham were awarded a penalty after Arteta bundled over Bryan Ruiz.
Typifying a performance that was casual yet completely effective, Berbatov nonchalantly paused before stroking the ball into the corner. Moments later, though, Giroud typified Arsenal's performance as a whole. Although he could only hit the post when put through on goal, he immediately made amends by nodding in Walcott's cross to make it 3-3.
The striker seemed to be growing in confidence, as he was at the centre of every Arsenal attack from then. On 90 minutes, however, he squandered one of the best chances of the game as he headed badly wide.
There was still time for Arsenal to miss an even better one.
In one of the final acts of the game, Sascha Riether was penalised for handball in the box. The penalty was harsh. A defeat for Fulham would have been harsher. As such, there was a sense of justice when Mark Schwarzer dived down superbly to deny Arteta.
Ultimately, the biggest indictment of Arsenal and the greatest praise for Fulham is the fact the two sides are level in the table. This game backed that up, and also indicated it doesn't look like changing any time soon. Whatever claims of psychological damage, Arsenal are a team in need of a certain amount of therapy.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Mannone; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Coquelin (Ramsey, 56), Arteta, Carzola; Walcott (Arshavin, 85), Giroud, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 76).
Fulham (4-3-3): Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Baird, Sidwell, Richardson (Kacaniklic, 24); Dejageh (Duff, 86), Ruiz, Berbatov.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Man of the match: Berbatov (Fulham)
Match rating: 8/10
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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