“Oh no, not again” – that was my feeling for the first 50 minutes of the game. It was almost a repeat of last season’s meetings between the two sides. As expected Fulham closed us down and denied us any space in the middle. We failed to get our game going and Fulham always looked like they could nick one anytime.
But something changed. We nicked one. Surprise, surprise! I couldn’t believe it as the goal literally came out of nowhere. It also showed that Hangeland isn’t any more special than the players we have but that doesn’t mean much right now. It also showed that even a misfiring Cesc is a serious threat to the opposition and that means a lot.
I feel the best way to analyze this game is to look at certain distinctive aspects. Mannone is obviously the first. He has well and truly announced his arrival at the big stage with that single performance. Right from the moment he made his first double save I kept seeing glimpses of a young Casillas in him. The way he dived and more importantly the way he got up quickly to make the second reflex save. I have to confess prior to yesterday I didn’t have enough confidence in the young Italian. If someone had told me he was going to put in such a performance before the game I would have laughed them off. But all credit to him as Almunia and Fabianski now have serious competition.
The second aspect of the game was as negative as the first was positive – Diaby. The way he played yesterday it seemed to me that he had taken a free role. He was all over the pitch. Now I don’t know if he was given specific instructions about how to play or was given a free role. Unfortunately, with the formation that we are playing, a person like Diaby just cannot afford to be as adventurous as he was. Not with his skills. What is the whole point of freeing up Cesc when you have another central mid fielder roaming all over the opposition half?
Due to Diaby’s positioning the left side was left exposed far too often and Clichy had to play higher up. This left a big gap behind him that was exploited time and again by the opposition. Diaby also failed to drop back support Clichy. Just see again how many of their crosses came from the left side of our defence and how many came from the right.
Diaby is a player who needs a lot of space. He needs the space to dribble past players and get his legs going. When most teams tend to drop deep against us Diaby becomes almost useless as a creative player. He neither has an incisive pass nor does he have the close control and speed to move past three or four challenges in a congested space. Add to this the fact that he tends to dwell on the ball for too long and we have a player who is hurting our offence as well as defence.
The third aspect is also a negative one. I am troubled by the fact that Fulham could play such a high line against us and we failed to get in behind them even once. The goal was the only time when we came close to doing that. But surely, if the opposition can be audacious enough to have their center backs playing close to the half way line at times, we have to get our attackers through on goal more often. I am not sure what the exact cause of this is but I do have the following suspicions
- Van Persie is not a classical center forward and I have hardly seen him make runs on the counter which see him through one on one with the opposition keeper
- The present formation and team selection is forcing Arshavin to drop deep to defend and he is nowhere close to making a run behind the opposition back line. Same goes for Bendtner
- Apart from Cesc there is no one who can actually thread such a pass and even Cesc missed a few opportunities yesterday.
Another aspect that intrigued me was the fact that we weren’t able to close the game out with the chances that we had. I have a feeling the end of season standings will clearly reflect how clinical a team has been over the course of the season. We have the time to correct this but so far we have missed too many chances. I can understand someone like Eboue missing opportunities. But RvP and Bendtner have to do much better. I have a feeling they are both trying too hard. They have enough class to be lethal strikers. But the start has not seen a glut of goals for either of them and perhaps they are putting too much pressure on themselves.
A positive aspect was the substitutions. Wenger is often criticized for making poor changes late on. Yesterday he got it spot on. First he switched to a 4-4-2 and brought in Rosicky to offer more cover on the left. Then he switched to a 4-5-1 and brought in Eboue. He could have taken Bendtner out. Instead he moved the giant Dane to the center and offered him an opportunity to get some minutes there. Nicky B did well in the few minutes he got through the middle but a goal would have done wonders.
I have a feeling our ideal team would have a fully fit Rosicky playing alongside and inspiring Fabregas. Nasri can also do that job. Unfortunately, both are not quite fit yet. The likes of Denilson and Diaby have to make sure they perform the defensive duties during this period. The Brazilian had settled well into that role before his injury. Diaby needs to get some positional tips from him.
Its good to get a tough win and steal some points for a change. The signs are positive.