And They Said We Can’t Win Ugly… (Highlights)

I should start off by saying that, no matter the performance, this is a fixture we lost last season and that Fulham looked more like the team they were last season down the stretch than a team currently in and around the relegation zone. It wasn’t pretty, but these are the matches we need to win.

I’ve said it many times on this blog… the league title is not won at Old Trafford or Anfield, it is won at Bolton, Blackburn, Birmingham, etc… We have to be able to get maximum points from fixtures like this and Saturday was a good start in that direction.

We should be honest and admit that we didn’t play well at all. Or should I say that we didn’t play well, consistently. There were brief periods, mostly in the second half after the goal, when our passing and movement were working well, but we didn’t control this match in any sense of the word. In fact, Fulham can rightly feel hard done by the result and, on another day, could have easily gotten all three points.

CelebrationWe seemed to come out of the gate fairly strong but after Fulham got a couple of solid chances off counterattacks the team seemed to become a bit hesitant. The hesitancy only made things worse with far too many giveaways in midfield and Diaby getting caught on the ball far too long, far too many times.

I may be beating a dead horse but I just keep wondering what is Diaby doing to merit getting all these starts. Diaby is a gifted and technical individual but he is not an Arsenal-type player. When he is on the pitch, it looks like ‘Arsenal and Diaby.”

Our entire game is based on quick passing and movement, and Diaby’s insistence on holding the ball and taking on far too many defenders only ends up disjointing the attack and keeping the side from developing any kind of rhythm in the match.

All these professional footballers surely stood out as youngsters in the park where they would dribble around 10 other kids and score routinely. Diaby seems to think he is still playing with kids who are nowhere near as good as he is. That is not an attitude that will help you be successful in the English Premier League.

No reflection on this match would be complete without mentioning the young Italian. Mannone was absolutely fantastic today and it could be said that we owe the three points to him. Because of the giveaways in midfield, the defense was caught out on the counterattack a number of times and Mannone answered every question Fulham had for him (even if some answers were guesses).

I would wonder, considering Almunia’s form before his injury and Mannone’s current form, whether or not Almunia will, indeed should, walk William Gallasback into the starting XI once he regains fitness. Rosicky seems to have regained his fitness and looked sharp in his 22 minutes after coming on for recently-returned Arshavin. When Nasri comes back into the fold, Diaby will be riding the bench and we may begin to see the kind of cohesion we expect from an Arsenal midfield.

The goal was sublime and it showed Robin van Persie somewhat filling Adebayor’s role. Last year, that would’ve been Adebayor receiving that kind of ball from Fabregas. The pass was classic Cesc and van Persie’s first touch was perfect after exploiting the huge gap left by Hangeland’s drifting. It’s always encouraging to see us score goals in such a direct manner.

Van Persie and Cesc look to be finding better ways to utilize van Persie’s new position in the 4-3-3, as evidenced not only by the goal but also the interchange between them that set up Arshavin for what was their best scoring chance of the first half.

That is exactly what van Persie needs to do to be successful in that central role. He can still come high or out wide and make tight passes in and around the box. That’s what he’s always done at Arsenal. But, most importantly, he needs to change it up.

He needs to read the game and know when to take a different approach, such as his run down the middle between the backs for the goal. It confuses defenders and forces the defense out of their game plan and comfort zone. And with Adebayor not here acting as the direct foil for van Persie’s withdrawn role, he must now play both those roles and know when to play them.

When your passing game just isn’t coming together, and Fulham’s hard work in midfield should not be ignored, you need to be able to take a more direct route to goal and that is just what Cesc and van Persie did. It was a narrow win, but, in the end, the points are what matters.

Now, it’s on to the Champions League Group Stage opener against Olympiakos at the Emirates on Tuesday evening.

Robin van Persie