‘Shocking and disgraceful’: These are the words on the lips of many Arsenal fans after a match in which the side were well beaten and echoed the horrendous performance against the Cottagers in November 2005. Fulham were worthy of their 1-0 success and with further shrewd buys, they will avoid a relegation tussle this time around.
The game was a strong reminder of the seasons between 2005 and 2007, where the Gunners were outfought and outmuscled throughout the whole season and lost to mediocre opposition, with respect to Fulham, who played an impressive pressing game, but that is the level where Arsene Wenger’s side dropped most of their points.
Having lost midfield dynamo Mathieu Flamini to Milan, there is no sense of urgency or aggression in central midfield. It was actually only when Song came on that the side looked capable of even creating a chance. Flamini’s running forced others to make up equal ground, with the resultant movement really making it difficult for opposition teams. As the former Marseille trainee moves to Italy his current replacement, the static Denilson, had his worst game for the club, and on current form, Gökhan Inler’s reported arrival will be very well received.
There was no cohesion, with Arsenal’s best chances coming from Sagna’s crossing and the occasional opening created by the fledgling partnership between Clichy and Nasri. Any move that reached the feet of Denilson or Eboue was abruptly ended and forced the forward players to chase back and stop that inevitable second goal.
There is a theory that the one-time successful full-back is only in the side due to his age and thus the idea of seniority comes up. There are more talented, skilful players left on the bench to accommodate this ‘experience’ which Eboue is supposed to bring. It might seem ironic that a club famed for giving chances to youth is being criticised for this trait in team selection but when a lack of experience throughout the side is evident, age is seen as a determinant for experience. This means younger, better players aren’t given a chance which they apparently deserve. Arsene Wenger is a wonderful manager and the best thing that has happened to this club but his sentimental nature is affecting the side.
The quality of Eboue at full-back (even if it seems a distant memory) is certain but anywhere in midfield he is a liability, perhaps barely adequate for games against the likes of West Brom and Hull City, but he had no idea concerning positioning or when pressing the ball today. Denilson’s performance was the worst seen in an Arsenal shirt for a while. He is played as a ‘second volante’, and thus the more attacking and aggressive of his central pairing with Eboue. Yet he was moved off the ball easily and his passing was ‘disguised’ in that it was so obvious a blind man could have anticipated it.
There were no forward balls from the Brazilian, whose stagnation is mirroring the demise of the current ‘Selecao’ every day and is doing nothing to show the flair and ability that the south American nation have been renowned for. He couldn’t turn his man once and should have been subbed within half an hour had Arsene Wenger been a more pro-reactive manager. Aaron Ramsey was criticised for his performance in the win against Twente so one can imagine the poor quality of the Brazilian’s performance.
The balance of the side was poor as Wenger uses seniority of players to fit them in the starting line-up. While the starting eleven looked worryingly ineffective, the substitutions did not do much to quell concerns. Many fans see Song as a ‘donkey’, in the same way that Luzhny and Cygan were once scapegoated and ridiculed, but those who watched him on loan at Charlton and play for Cameroon in the African Cup and Olympics, will have seen a fine, purposeful player. But to bring him on at centre-back where his attacking potential will have the least impact was questionable at least.
This was the first of many problems. Why drop an in-form Djourou for an out-of-sorts Toure, who was still recovering from his bout of malaria? The idea of easing him in at right-wing in a game Arsenal could have easily drawn against West Brom could have also back-fired. These doubts were confirmed as the brittle Gallas-Toure partnership was outmuscled by Fulham’s Brede Hangeland, who poked in past Almunia. While set-pieces still present themselves as a major flaw in the side, there is strong media speculation concerning the club’s most natural defender in Philippe Senderos being touted off to Milan and Newcastle. There must surely be a grain of truth in this; otherwise the Swiss defender would have been in the squad.
Some fickle Arsenal fans have once more knocked down ‘Big Phil’ whenever they’ve had the chance, but his lack of success at the club has purely been down to the issue of seniority. Over the past few years, he has performed much better than Kolo Toure, but has been dropped on every occasion the Ivorian is fit, with Djourou now experiencing that same fate. Every time Senderos has had a sustained run in the side, they have been more secure defensively, with his style complementing one of Gallas and Toure, and forming a cohesive back four alongside full-backs Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna
In terms of seniority, Theo Walcott is one of the older players at the club now, yet his anonymous showing over the past three games, bar an assist for Adebayor against Twente means that a place at right wing is very much up for grabs. Like Quincy (now at Birmingham), he is threatening to being labelled as a ‘speed merchant’. He clearly lacks footballing intelligence with ex-Gunner Stewart Robson even suggesting that 16 year old Jack Wilshere is the smarter player and has aspects to his game which Theo should pick up on.
If it wasn’t for fatigue after a tough pre-season which neither is accustomed to, one would hope that Ramsey and Wilshere could have played some part in the game at Craven Cottage. Yet, hypothetically speaking, if they were fully fit, why did they not play any part whatsoever, having been on the bench (with a 3rd substitution still available)? And once more the idea of seniority comes up as does the question of squad depth.
This idea extends to tactics and set pieces, with Robin Van Persie taking over all direct free-kicks, and missing every single one of them. Samir Nasri was lining up to take the final one but was denied the chance as profligate Dutchman wasted another decent opportunity. And while many criticise Adebayor for his lack of accuracy upon goal, Van Persie has been equally wasteful, overusing the power in that demonic left foot, and not using the wonderful technique and accuracy that he has when he has an opportunity. The decision to take the short corner with Nasri at a vital point in the match, rather than just hit an in-swinger, was also very misjudged with the result causing the away side to lose the ball as they did several times during the game.
It has been a nu mber of games since the free-flowing football attributed to Arsenal has actually been displayed, and while the average age of the side is young, the call for success is present and Arsene Wenger’s young tyros will have to answer the phone. Twente at home on Wednesday is the perfect stage to begin.
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