ARSENAL V FULHAM
Is this the small beginnings of not quite ‘Total Football’, but the nearest that Arsene Wenger will get to it?
I was intrigued by the first half display. They played some really delightful build up play in the first 20 or so minutes, but without finding the net. Fulham, predictably set their stall out to not concede. In that respect they were the more successful. With Brede Hangeland back, and his young partner Burn, who was very impressive, they must have the tallest centre back pairing in the league? With other players around them willing to put in a shift, it was a far cry from the side that lost 6-1 in their previous league game. So scoring was going to be difficult. And apart from some long range efforts from Gnabry, who snatched at one when the whole goal opened up before him; and instead, it went the same as his other efforts, wide or high.
However, that was not what intrigued me. It was the movement from the front five or six that was different. So Gnabry played more central? Yes and no. He moved in from the right when Ozil went wide. When he switched flanks, Cazorla came more central. If Ozil went to the left side, then Gnabry went left of centre. All this was going on throughout the first half. The only constant player who never strayed wider than the width of the box was Jack Wilshere. With Giroud going out wide and leaving Gnabry as the central striker, it was very difficult to see if it was successful, because of the lack of goals. But what it did show was that there was a conscious effort to get an understanding between all of our attacking midfielders. I say this as a back drop with the penultimate post questioning individuals to work with Mesult Ozil. And the answer was that that all bar one player, it had some great moments in this battle for space in a crowded area?
The odd one out was Mesult Ozil.
In a later post yet to be released, I posed the thought that Ozil would be able to work around the others. In this example he failed to do so. But that is for a later discussion.
Right now, I was inspired by the fluidity, and I think in a more open game it would have produced a hatful of goals. It is still a work in progress I feel, and one that Ozil may or may not become a master of? Why it failed here was mainly because Giroud was not given more space by the movement around him, and he too, looked the odd one out? Gnabry’s improved: running into spaces to get the ball led to numerous one-two touches, and switches of play, and both Monreal and Sagna providing width and crosses that should have been better used. As a work in progress, Gnabry is coming along well. As to the cohesion of the rest of the midfield, we will have to see how that unfolds later. But it is intriguing?
From the opening corner inside two minutes, a through ball from Wilshere saw an Ozil shot blocked, when he ought to have done better? A blocked shot from Cazorla from a touch on from Giroud, The wild long range effort from Gnabry, and another one-two with Giroud saw a second Cazorla effort blocked. This was followed by the snatched Gnabry shot, and a blocked effort from Ozil: a rare long shot from Ozil(?) blocked, and a Giroud shot over after a good touch from Gnabry. It shows the variety I spoke of above, and all in the first 20 minutes … it looked only a matter of time?
However, it took a superb save from Chezzer, getting his right hand to a fierce half volley from Sidwell, and turned it away to safety, to keep the score at 0-0.
The rest of the half became more a battle for control, rather than shots raining in from all angles. Gnabry had an attempted curler that went wide, and Cazorla had another shot blocked. But for the most part, Arsenal were comfortable at keeping Fulham out, and Ozil apart, who looked a little off with his thinking, so receiving and giving passes were going astray, and Gnabry’s youthful keenness to score, the rest had a pretty good game. Although, it tailed off a tad in the second quarter, perhaps missing that urgency and energy that Rosicky or Ramsey might bring?
There was a different feel about the second half. I suspect the boss had reminded them not to repeat the Villa performance? Fulham started brightly, but when Arsenal did attack, shots were on target, and brought about a string of good saves. An angled shot from Giroud on the left, Gnabry’s fierce drive to the bottom left-hand corner, a blocked shot from Cazorla all preceded a goal mouth scramble. A cross from Cazorla to the far post, Sagna shot block, Koscielny shot blocked, Gnabry shot from equally close range, blocked. You could be forgiven for thinking it was not going to be our day?
That all changed a minute later. A lovely pass and move with Monreal, Cazorla kept moving with the final assist coming from Wilshere, and a first time shot hit with more accuracy than power saw the ball nestle in the bottom right-hand corner. Cazorla was a happy boy again. Five minutes later he repeated the trick in the same corner, hitting low first time. 2-0.
With 20 minutes to go, Lukas Podolski came on for the fast developing Serge Gnabry. He too had a terrific shot saved by keeper and woodwork, but had little else to add to his claims for a first team start, but not from the lack of trying. Fulham also tried to get a consolation goal with their sub, Darren Bent, who looked clear on goal but a late intervention by Koscielny forced him to shoot wide before he was clattered in the box. Certain penalty had Bent not got his shot away first, but I’ve known refs to give it anyway?
Ox came on with about 5 minutes plus stoppage time, and he became the third sub on who might have made it on to the score sheet late on, with a backward leaning header that had direction but too much height. Just a late corner scare that ended the game, otherwise the clean sheet was never really threatened.
It would have been nice to have written this as something to put the smile on one of our number who is having to face a very tough battle in the coming days. Instead it is written for the records, and despite the background on a personal level, I hope JB will not mind if I stuck to purely my insight of the game. Our thoughts are with you, but we understand that being TOTL is a triviality in your circumstances.
Best wishes, as always, JB.
Written by: Gerry.