Samir Nasri take a bow. Whaddaplaya!
I normally don’t go hyper over one player after a game but this match belongs to Nasri. More on this in the course of the write-up.
Top of the League. And a goal that deserves to be first. I almost had three heart attacks in this game but I’m loving it!
I felt in the build up to this weekend that Chelsea had more chances of dropping points at home than Arsenal had against Fulham. Clairvoyant, eh! 😉
Yesterday I was talking about the need for the midfield to dominate this game. If they could get it to the forward players we will create plenty of chances. In the first half hour they did just that. Song, Wilshere, and Rosicky all had good touches and brought Arshavin into play pretty frequently. The Russian was very close to his best and created a hatful of chances in the opening 30 minutes.
The first one fell to Arshavin when Squillaci got a head to a set-piece and the ball fell to the Russian who was unmarked around the six yard box. He had to take the volley first time and Schwarzer did a good job of closing him down.
The second chance came within minutes when Clichy did excellent work on the left and played it through to Arshavin. AA23’s backheel, or was it a dummy, allowed the ball to roll to Chamakh on the edge of the box. The Moroccan held it up and laid it into the path of the onrushing Rosicky. I guess it was lack of confidence, not having scored in 34 games, that forced Little Mozart into playing it back towards Chamakh who wasn’t expecting it.
Soon after Arshavin again collected the ball just inside the Fulham half and got a chance to turn and run at the defence. Nasri made a beautiful diagonal run and the Russian magician found him with an inch perfect pass. The Frenchman could only toe-poke it wide.
By this time we knew Arsenal were in the mood and this was going to be an exciting game. So far it had been all Arshavin and there was more to come from him.
Before the 15 minutes were up the Russian was at it again pouncing on a poor touch by Hughes and running at the defence. He lost his balance as he reached the edge of the box but had enough composure to find another perfectly timed run by Nasri.
The Frenchman was within 10 yards of goal but Hangeland was sliding in to make the block. Nasri knew it and beat him with a dummy. Then he took Hughes out with another dummy and created a couple of yards for himself before blasting it past the hapless Schwarzer. The intelligence, awareness, composure and technique of the Frenchman were exceptional.
Arsenal could have run away with the game before the half hour mark. After the goal Chamakh was clean through having been picked out by another pinpoint ball dinked by Arshavin. Unbelievably, the Moroccan turned his back on goal and looked for a midfield run. He did find Wilshere but even the youngster was not prepared to shoot and the chance was squandered.
Rosicky created another gilt edged chance this time for Song. Songinho tried a side-foot volley but put it just wide of the post with Schwarzer stranded.
Just as the half hour mark arrived, Squillaci and Koscielny went for the same ball. Koscielny picked up a knock but tried to stay on his feet. Song went to ground in a dangerous area but Dempsey had the composure to keep the ball. By then Koscielny had collapsed and Kamara was free. The American played him in and the striker slotted it past Fabianski. I’m not completely convinced that Kamara was onside but never got to see the replay from the side. Seemingly out of nowhere the visitors were back in the game.
The old cliché ‘goals change games’ came true. Fulham developed a sense they could compete and Arsenal could see the spectres of recent disasters looming.
In the final 15 minutes of the half, Fulham pressed Arsenal much higher up and with greater organization and desire. The Arsenal midfield failed to bring the ball out as consistently and comfortably as before and the chances dried up. The visitors were in the ascendancy while Arsenal were uncertain and lacked confidence.
It could have changed just before half time when Sagna delivered a fantastic cross that landed bang on the head of Chamakh. His header was powerful but straight at Schwarzer.
I’m sure half time was an anxious period for many of us. Surely Arsene had to do something, say something to get the players back to how the game started.
Fulham did well at the start of the second half. They continued their pressing game and made it difficult for our midfield. The only real chance I can recall was the one where Arshavin got his shot away after seeing off a couple of challenges. The Fulham Keeper was up to the task.
Just after the hour mark Arsene introduced RvP for Rosicky. I was a bit surprised by this because we were losing the battle in midfield and bringing on a striker, who is still finding his feet after recovering from injury, for a midfielder didn’t make that much sense.
For the next fifteen minutes or so this fear was justified as Fulham created more chances, albeit most were cross and hope types, than Arsenal. In the 74th minute we saw Theo come on for Wilshere. This substitution did the trick even though Theo had nothing to do with the goal.
Nasri moved into midfield and was involved in a big contender for goal of the season. I think it started with Clichy controlling a loose ball. He played it square to the Frenchman on the halfway line. Nasri moved a few yards forward before finding an unmarked Arshavin in an inside right position. Arshavin played it forward to RvP who was on the shoulder of the last defender. The Dutchman came inside on his left foot and prepared to shoot. Instead of pulling the trigger he found the run of Nasri who’d bursted forward.
With two or three touches, exceptional close control, and some phenomenal body movement Nasri beat two defenders and the keeper but it seemed he’d over done it as the ball was moving away from goal and to a very narrow angle. Somehow he managed to swivel and strike it in. I couldn’t believe Nasri had scored. Not only did he find the net he had the intelligence to kick it higher knowing the defender was sliding back to cover the line.
I’m not a fan of commentators but this time he wasn’t exaggerating when he said ‘Nasri showed the feet of an Angel’ and that this was “a goal that deserves to win any game’.
After the goal I was screaming for Wenger to take Arshavin off and bring Denilson on. Only after the game was over did I realize that we’d used up our substitutions. Djourou had come on for Koscielny after that clash of heads in the first half.
Al l credit to the players for concentrating up till the end and denying Fulham any clear opportunities.
Fabianski: excellent. Caught well, punched when needed, made a couple of top class saves.
Sagna: his usual brilliant self. Didn’t allow the Fulham attack much room on the right. moved well on the wings, put in a couple of fantastic crosses.
Squillaci: unusually shaky in this game. got in the way of Sagna once and then went for a ball that Koscielny had covered. Knocked his partner out and that led to the goal.
Koscielny: was looking solid and doing his part but was only on the pitch for the period that Arsenal were dominating.
Djourou: played for an hour when Arsenal were not dominating as we’d expect. Won a number of headers. Looked composed on the ball. Good understanding with Squillaci after a few shaky moments initially.
Clichy: Another superb performance. Worked tireless, made good interceptions, showed amazing composure when the team was under pressure, didn’t allow too many crosses from the left although not as good as Sagna in that regard but Clichy didn’t have Song to support him.
On the whole the back five were not as good as I’d have liked even though the fullbacks and the keeper were excellent. The centre backs didn’t have a very good understanding in the first half and ‘one trick’ Fulham were able to ask some questions. Did much better in the second half even when the midfield struggled to support them.
Song: Not as good as he usually is. Went to ground unnecessarily. Wasn’t close enough to the defence in the middle half hour of the game. Very good effort in terms of work rate and desire to defend. Misplaced a few passes.
Rosicky: Did the job of bringing Arshavin into play. Should have taken more responsibility once Fulham were on the up. Needs to be more confident in the final third.
Wilshere: did well in physical challenges in the first half. did a good job of supporting the defence but also went missing on occasions. Passing was good except on one or two occasions.
The midfield should have done more once Fulham got the goal. There were patches in the game when Arsenal were just hoofing the ball up and the midfield was stuck in between, not helping the attack or the defence.
Nasri: I guess he must be the unanimous choice for MotM. I just loved is technique, speed on the pitch, speed of thought, calmness of mind, willingness to take charge, and the ability to make a difference when it was most needed. He did have a few loose moments but I don’t want to dwell on it.
Chamakh: Excellent in all aspects bar one. Perhaps the most important one – when clean through he must score. It’s a tricky balance and he’ll learn because he showed he can shoot on the turn late in the second half. Loved the fact that he was covering the left flank in the final 10 minutes when Arshavin was out of gas.
Arshavin: on another day he’d have been MotM. Exceptional in the first half hour. Good in the second 30. Lost steam in the final stretch. Certainly much better than he was a few weeks back. Looks a lot more confident and is getting his tricks right.
Subs: Van Persie didn’t get into the game as much as I would have liked but he got the vital assist. Walcott didn’t really know what to do.