Arsenal 2 Fulham 1.
To watch Arsenal start this season against Fulham was to watch another piece of theater as the ridiculous, the sublime, and the strange all played out in 90+ minutes. It left you with a myriad of emotions ranging from despair to delight. Jens Lehmann’s bone headed fumbling which led to a disastrous goal within a minute of the start of play when all that was needed was a simple clearance brought back memories of other ways Arsenal have managed to shoot themselves in the foot. This time it was David Healy, another one of Laurie Sanchez’s NI signings that gratefully accepted Lehmann’s ghastly little flub.
And then it was deja vu all over again as wave after wave of beautiful Arsenal build ups broke down with one pass too many, the errant final pass, too few options up front, a physical Fulham defense led by Zat Knight and Carlos Bocanegra winning the aerial challenges, and underscoring Arsenal’s lack of inches in attack. I became tired of hearing how good Tony Warner was at goal. It was not Warner’s good goalkeeping as much as Arsenal shooting the ball straight to him after that extra pass ensured Warner was in the right position to stop the ball. He is a journeyman goalie, not Petr Cech, fer cryin’ out loud!
Wenger’s introduction of Nicklas Bendtner very late in the game was the key to Arsenal’s pulling this game out. Wenger must have seen how the Arsenal attack was being shunted aside by the taller Fulham defense. The Danish lad has height, strength, quick feet, and was physically assertive. He went up against Zak Knight and Carlos Bocanegra winning the aerial challenges and showed (gasp!) good goal poaching instincts. You could see the Fulham defense becoming less sure of themselves with Bendtner around. I think it was this bit of doubt that paved the way for Toure’s sizzling little run, being brought down by Bocanegra desperation tackle, and Van Persie’s penalty kick equalizer.
The ball was then hogged by Jack Warner who would not let it go. Flamini stripped him off it and a strange rugby like scrum ensued with both teams milling around trying to tear the ball away. Papa Dioup came up with it and Fabregas chased him down swiping the ball from his hands. All part of the age of Aquarius. It resulted in three yellow cards.
Lehmann must have heaved a sigh of relief that was bottled up for almost 83 minutes. But he had to deal with Toure, the hero of a few minutes earlier almost scored an own goal in a typical casual mix up that seemed to plague Arsenal’s defense in this match.
But the best little piece of play came from “long overdue for a big game Alexander Hleb”, as he chested down a nice lofted pass from Cesc, stayed on his feet after being challenged by Zat Knight, and angled his shot across the goal mouth, finding the left corner of the net. Nice bit of work and the best part was the undersized Hleb managed to stay on his feet.
Eboue still has some ways to go before he can rove effectively on the right and transition into an attacking midfielder. Walcott again showed great pace and some nice skills but I have always found his cross and shot making decisions suspect. He really needs to work on those to become threatening. Gallas needs to provide defense and his involvement in the game should be more than arguing with the referee and poking his nose in an altercation. Bakary Sagna performed very well and the Auxerre lad showed why he is so highly rated by Les Bleus. But the performer today was Nicklas Bendnter who in his 10 minute appearance showed that he could provide an exclamation point to all those dazzling Arsenal build ups.
The agony and ecstasy of being Arsenal: Bendtner was big
Arsenal 2 Fulham 1.