Goals: Giroud (11) , Podolski (23), Berbatov (29), Kacaniklic (40), Berbatov (67, pen), Giroud (69)
Arsenal gave away a two goal lead for the second time this week and dropped two more points against Fulham after Arteta missed the dubious penalty awarded by the referee Phil Dowd with the last kick of the game.
Arsenal had a 4-2-3-1 formation. Vito Mannone started at the goal. Vermaalen was again at left back. Koscielny was paired with Mertesacker at the center of the defence. Bacary Sagna started at right back. In central midfield, Coquelin was paired with Mikel Arteta. Podolski was on the left, and Walcott started on the right. Cazorla was behind Giroud who started as the central striker.
Early on, the game was played in a very slow tempo with Fulham trying to build from the back. Arsenal did not really press Fulham’s build-up and preferred to keep their shape. The first danger came from Fulham when a good move from their left through Berbatov found Ruiz, but his shot was deflected wide for a corner. In Arsenal’s attack, Walcott looked lively on the right flank, and it was his corner that brought the opening goal when Giroud’s thumping header crashed into the net. It was the first headed goal for Arsenal in their 11th league game.
Arsenal were not playing a high tempo game, looking content to let Fulham have the ball as the visitors were enjoying good amount of possession without really threatening. When Fulham were temporarily down to 10 men with Richardson’s injury, Arsenal doubled their lead exploiting the visitors’ lack of defensive concentration: Cazorla’s short pass to Walcott was deflected onto the path of Arteta who was running inside the box from the right channel. The Spaniard’s cutback was guided into the net by Podolski arriving from the other end, with Fulham back four all asleep.
At 2-0, it looked like Arsenal had no excuse not to hold on to their comfortable lead. Fulham were already playing an open game, and now they had to chase the game away from home. The ease that Fulham got back in the game, though, could have sucked the will to live even out of a lifetime practitioner of Ashtanga yoga. A great tackle by Coquelin won the ball in front of Arsenal’s box, yet Koscielny lost possession again and Arsenal gave away a needless corner. The customary set piece goal that Arsenal concede in almost every game arrived from Ruiz’s corner when an unmarked Berbatov headed the ball in with Mannone making no effort to dominate the 6-yard box. Wenger later complained that “No one jumped.”
The goal brought back questions about Arsenal’s confidence and fragility, and their already slow game looked even more painful to watch. It was not long before Fulham equalized, again with incredible ease. Berbatov’s simple run inside the right channel was picked up by Riether, but not by any Arsenal player (Podolski gave some sort of a chase but he was late to react to the run). The Bulgarian master had enough time to find Kacaniklic in the box who had peeled off Sagna and his downward header bounced off the ground and hit the net inside the far corner. Just before half time, Fulham almost took the lead: Kacaniklic was released by Ruiz on Arsenal’s right, but his low cross into the box was wasted by Dejagah’s showboating. Arsenal went for the dressing room looking just like the spent team that they are at the moment.
Early in the second half, Ramsey replaced Coquelin, as Arsene Wenger perhaps somehow still thinks that he can provide penetration from central areas. What Ramsey provided instead was a contemporary exhibition of sitting on the ball too long, getting caught in possession and losing it. When the young Welshman lost the ball to Ruiz, the midfielder almost found Berbatov in the box, but Koscielny’s tackle was timely and firm. Arsenal did not look like going anywhere with Arteta looking slow and indecisive on the ball and under constant pressure from Ruiz, Podolski completely missing on the left flank and Cazorla again looking classy in patches but very tired to be pulling strings. In the 65th minute, Arteta was caught in possession at the edge of the box on Arsenal’s left, lost the ball to Ruiz and then brought the impressive Fulham player down. Berbatov planted the resulting penalty to the bottom left corner with sublime confidence.
Falling behind finally shook the very foundations of the Arsenal’s team spirit. They rallied with a mixture of desperation and adrenaline, and hit back quickly. Cazorla’s excellent through ball found Giroud in the box and his left footed shot bounced off the post to Walcott on the far right. The winger’s precise cross back into the box was headed in by Giroud.
The crowd was now fully behind Arsenal and wanted their team to push for a winner. With the audacious Fulham also not sitting back, in the last 20 minutes the game turned into a great spectacle with chances at both ends. When Sagna, who had a bad game, lost the ball to Ruiz, the Costa Rican’s shot was parried out for a corner by Mannone. Minutes later, Koscielny prevented a certain goal when Berbatov was played through behind the Arsenal’s back line. Arsenal also had their chances to grab the winner. Giroud turned away from Sidwell, created space for a shot, but his rocket was well saved by Schwarzer. Later, Sagna’s deep cross into the box was met again by Giroud but he could not direct his header into the goal from a difficult position. It should be said that the French striker was the rare shining light in Arsenal’s attack all game long with his power, desire and intelligent movement.
In the four minutes of extra time, Arsenal won a series of corners, but despite Giroud’s best efforts, could not find a winner. There was, however, still time for more drama: With seconds remaining, Ruiz inexplicably passed the ball to Arshavin in Fulham half and the Russian scooted down the left towards the box. His cross hit Riether’s arm when the Fulham player was hardly a yard away and was actually trying to hide his arm away from the ball. When the typically lousy Phil Dowd produced a penalty, it was a pathetic decision. Yet, justice was perhaps done when Arteta’s low shot to the bottom right corner was saved by Schwarzer. That was the last touch of another frustrating game for Arsenal.
Despite their rally after falling behind, Arsenal again looked like a disjointed and uncertain force, especially defensively. The ease Fulham got back in the game, and found openings whenever they counterattacked with Ruiz and Berbatov directing their play was incredible. One positive from the day was Giroud who fought like a lion up-front. Arsenal’s two pivot midfield players in most of the second half, Ramsey and Arteta competed with each other to get caught in possession and lose the ball in dangerous areas. Things are not looking good at all for Arsenal before the next week’s North London derby. They concede too easily and create with so much difficulty.