Arsenal conceded two goals in the last ten minutes at Craven Cottage as Fulham took advantage of Johan Djourou’s red card to snatch three points for Martin Jol’s side. The Gunners should have taken advantage of a decent first half full of flowing football but totally ran out of steam in the final minutes as Steve Sidwell and Bobby Zamora made the difference.
Arsene Wenger’s men started the game with considerable vigour given their recent busy schedule. Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey both struck efforts in the first minutes before the Ivorian squandered a great chance by hitting a volley wide from two yards out after a Van Persie corner.
We looked comfortable on the ball, the passing was crisp and Fulham’s backline didn’t like it at all when the Arsenal moved at pace. Gervinho was the real danger man for the Gunners. He was constantly fed the by Arteta and Song and took it upon himself to test the Fulham defence with several mazy runs.
After a poor pass by Danny Murphy, the summer signing was played into the penalty box by Van Persie. He skipped past Senderos with quick feet only to be tripped. It looked innocuous at first, but replays showed that referee Lee Probert should have pointed to the spot.
Despite a few more profligate moments from the attackers, we finally broke the deadlock on 21 minutes. A shot by Arteta was blocked by Ramsey, the ball fell to Gervinho who laid it up to Ramsey. The Welshman dinked the ball to the back post and Laurent Koscielny, still hanging around the box after a corner, headed home. 1-0.
A minute later Arsenal should have doubled their lead. David Stockdale in the Fulham goal denying first Aaron Ramsey and then a deflected Song shot from point blank range.
At the back Johan Djourou and Francis Coquelin were being seriously tested. While the latter was proving himself a flexible customer in the left-back position, the Swiss took to blocking stuff with his arse on the opposite flank. Fulham’s biggest threat came from the ever-improving Bryan Ruiz – the Costa Rican curling an effort just past the post before a last gasp tackle from Song prevented the striker from a second clear shot at goal.
In the final third we looked constantly dangerous, but not cutthroat. Walcott had a tame effort from the edge of the area, a Van Persie snapshot from a Coquelin cross was easily saved. Just for good measure the Dutchman struck another lame shot soon after as he tried to find his range. A decent strike from Ramsey concluded a promising half.
Fulham were fast out of the traps at the start of the second 45 minutes. A Sidwell header flew over the bar before the game got scrappy in the middle of the park.
Up front Theo Walcott was having a stinker. His final ball was consistently appalling despite him finding space on several occasions. I’m sure he was trying, but it was a far cry from his performance at Chelsea on the Gunners last trip to West London. He was subbed on the 65 minute mark for Rosicky.
Fulham continued to press forward looking for an equaliser. First Senderos nearly scored with his head from a Dempsey free-kick, then the American missed a great chance from close range after a dangerous Ruiz cross. Arsenal were holding on. Just.
After a long period of controlled possession, Gervinho had Arsenal’s first shot in in anger in the second half in the 70th minute. It was a very poor effort and he was replaced by Benayoun soon after.
Again Fulham pushed forward, Ruiz forcing a fine save from Szczesny while Mertesacker and Koscielny were throwing themselves in front of everything. We were under real pressure with eleven men on the pitch, when that became ten we just couldn’t cope.
With thirteen minutes left on the clock Johan Djourou was sent off. Given a torrid time by Zamora, and having already been booked earlier in the half, he hauled down the Fulham man on the edge of the box and received his marching orders. It was hard to complain with the decision.
The resulting free-kick from Kelly was blocked before Ramsey was sacrificed for Squillaci as Arsene reshuffled his defensive pack for the final ten minutes.
With six minutes to go two ex-Arsenal players combined to give Fulham a well-deserved equaliser. A corner wasn’t dealt with by Szczesny, Senderos headed back across goal and Steve Sidwell scored from point blank range with his head. 1-1.
You hoped we might hold on for a point. We didn’t.
Two minutes into injury-time Fulham scored the winner. A poor header across goal by Squillaci was crashed home by Zamora at Szczesny’s near post. It was effectively the last kick of the game and felt like it had been squarely arrowed in the face of all Gooners.
Having had a great end to 2011 it’s a terrible start to 2012. The squad looks stretched and tired. Reinforcements are needed. Let’s hope Arsene can find the necessary men in the coming weeks.