Arsenal and Fulham played out a highly entertaining match at the Emirates in a game where both sides were incredibly open at the back, leading to a high-scoring fixture. Mikel Arteta missed a last-gasp penalty that could have given the home side all three points. Here are five quick observations…
Fulham try to keep the ball
Fulham had the better start to the game and their ball retention was particularly impressive in the first 15-20 minutes or so. They were happy to patiently move the ball from one area to another, making backwards and sideways passes in order to try and draw out the Arsenal defence and create gaps for one of Bryan Ruiz or Dimitar Berbatov to drift into. The spine of the Fulham side; Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland, Chris Baird, Steve Sidwell and Ruiz made a total of 267 passes with a success rate of just under 90%.
When attacking, Fulham were much stronger on the right wing where Ashkan Dejagah had a lot of success in utilising being up against a makeshift left back in Thomas Vermaelen. Right back Sascha Riether was also a willing runner from deep. Vermaelen looked most uncomfortable when dragged too far away from his left sided centre back Laurent Koscielny, and 42% of Fulham attacks came down this side of the pitch. As the diagram on the right shows, the majority of interceptions were made on the Fulham right, due to the away teams willingness to pinpoint getting at Vermaelen and make use of Lukas Podolski’s reluctance to track back too far when Arsenal lost possession.
Sagna and Walcott
Arsenal were also stronger down their right hand side where Bacary Sagna and Theo Walcott linked up very well. The more defensive-minded Kieran Richardson had started on the left of midfield for Fulham, with John Arne Riise at left back – perhaps Martin Jol thought he could rely on Richardson to work hard and track the run of Sagna as well as help to double up on Walcott? But Richardson was dragged off on 23 minutes due to injury and replaced by Alexander Kacaniklic who provided more creativity going forward. Sagna and Walcott contributed a total of 25 crosses down that side, with the intention of giving Olivier Giroud the type of service he thrives on, but only 3 were accurate.
Giroud takes two
The Frenchman has come in for a lot of stick since joining Arsenal but today was perhaps his most encouraging performance in an Arsenal shirt. The striker finished with two goals; the first coming from a near post header at a corner, and the second a header from a similar position after seeing his initial effort hit the post and fall to Walcott. His overall game was much better today though, he received a lot of direct balls, up against the physically imposing Hangeland, but still managed to win six of his nine aerial duels.
On form Berbatov
Fulham’s lone striker was just as impressive today, playing a role in all of Fulham’s goals. Berbatov scored a straight forward header from a corner for Fulham’s first and netted their last goal with a well-taken penalty. But his role in the second goal, where he made a fantastic run down the right hand channel before showing the vision to pick out substitute Kacaniklic to score on 40 minutes, was just as vital. It was clear that this was a game Berbatov was relishing, despite showing signs of frustration later on. The diagram on the left shows how the Bulgarian was given the reigns to come deep and receive the ball as well as float into the channels out wide, and he wasn’t just simply used by Fulham as a target man to relieve pressure.
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