The way I see it - Fulham v Arsenal

Last updated : 18 January 2008 By Jason Hogan
...but what I do know is that when something detrimental happens to someone or something you happen to care about, it's not easy to either just shrug your shoulders, turn the other cheek or in some cases allow yourself to count to ten before you react.

At about 5pm last Saturday, I can just imagine thousands of Arsenal fans trudging away from The Grove feeling disgruntled and a little cheesed off with life in general. And no wonder. They had all seen the Arsenal throw away two points to a side that had failed to win any of their last seven games and were fresh from the humiliation of being dumped out of the FA Cup by Huddersfield a week earlier.

Having watched the whole game twice both on Sky and courtesy of the new Arsenal TV channel, my impression was no different to many fellow Gooners in that the game was a throwback to a lot of the early games we played at The Grove at the front end of last season. The only difference was that we actually scored first this time.

I don't know what really frustrated me the most - the fact that we only managed to score at all on the day courtesy of a dodgy penalty kick or the fact that we virtually gifted our opponents a way back into the game virtually because of the kind of sloppy defending which, in it's own way, epitomised the casual manner we seemed to approach the whole game with.

I suppose our cause wasn't helped by the fact that young Theo in particular had an absolute mare. We might as well have played with ten men. The boy couldn't do a thing right all afternoon and to be honest if he wasn't necessarily a liability, he certainly was a passenger.

Now, I have always said if we are going to ever see young Theo really come to the fore consistently for Arsenal, it wont be for at least another couple of years. And when non-Arsenal supporting mates of mine have always asked me why he hasn't been shipped out on loan somewhere, I have replied that there is no other place certainly in this country where the emphasis on technical ability is the same as it is at Arsenal. And in order for him to become fully integrated into the team in the long run it made sense, I told them, for him to stay with us. But you know something I'm not altogether sure about that anymore.

Theo reminds me very much at present of Jose Antonio Reyes in his time at the club. When Reyes played for us, I always thought that there was a cracking player inside him waiting to get out. And whilst there were flashes of brilliance at times from the Spaniard, he flattered to deceive more often than not. The same seems to be happening to Theo.

I stand by what I said though - if we are going to see Theo really make his mark it isn't going to happen for a good couple of years and I think that there would be no harm in sending the boy out on loan somewhere where he can just enjoy the game.

Because at present he appears to be playing under pressure and the most basic things are not coming to him naturally. He is trying a little too hard and getting nowhere really. I believe the day will come when this boy's career really takes off but whatever we do, we need to give him time. And maybe a loan spell somewhere down the line at a club where the there isn't as much intense scrutiny on all that goes on within it may do the boy some good.

Young Walcott may have had a mare but there were a fair few of Arsenal's players that were much better (step forward Cesc Fabregas for starters) and the only person that looked anywhere near making a difference for us on the day was Alex Hleb but even his influence invariably waned the longer the game went on.

All in all, it's safe to say that Saturday's game has left many an Arsenal fans wrestling with their emotions. I wasn't at all perturbed by the euphoric acclaim that greeted ManUre's win over Newcastle or the fact that we relinquished top spot on goal difference.

I even laughed at the suggestions in the press and the media that we had finally shot our bolt and that ManUre, on the back of their win over a hapless and hopeless Newcastle side, had suddenly catapulted themselves into a totally unassailable position. Unlike the so-called experts in the press and the media, I know that nothing is that cut and dried in football.

What is really gnawing away at me right now is where WE are really at. With no game to play this week, I really felt that it was a time and indeed an opportunity for us to take stock of one or two things.

I think that fact that we have got rid of Lassana Diarra is a blessed relief. I think the boy was a prime example of what is wrong with modern day football and in some ways, modern society.

Here was a lad with a talent and I have to say his performance up at Blackburn in that Carling Cup tie the other day will live long in my memory that's for sure.

But then again the odd good performance didn't make him into someone like Paul Scholes overnight. Now I know he is a Manc and normally I would be the last person on earth to extol the virtues of anyone linked with that club. But I will defy anyone to show me another player who has shown much more dedication to his profession than this boy has.

Scholes has had his knocks and not always had things all his own way at ManUre over the years (missing out on the Champions League final in 1999 for example) but in spite of any adversity that has come his way, he always kept his head down and grafted. Why? Because unlike Diarra and so many other young people these days in so may walks of life, Scholes has always had a level of respect for the surroundings he is in and he appreciates the true value of them.

In other words, I'm glad that Diarra has moved on to Portsmouth. People who do not have respect for anything, know the true the value of absolutely nothing and generally think that the world revolves around them do not have any place at Arsenal.

So with one problem sorted and a profit, I believe, being made to boot, the burning question is whether Arsene will bring in any reinforcements before the end of January.

There are certainly a lot of anomalies for Arsene to ponder. The word on the street is that Van Persie is destined to be on the shelf yet again for a lengthy spell. And Wenger's well laid plan to bring Djourou back from his loan spell primarily as cover for the enforced absence of Messrs Toure and Song has hit the skids because he will now be out of commission probably until February.

So as things stand, we are not as well stocked up front as we would like to be and we are even thinner on the ground at the back than we should be. Having made my thoughts very clear on Senderos in recent articles, the thought of Gallas picking up a knock that puts him on the shelf for say the next month really doesn't bear thinking about. Will Wenger react in any way to counter this? Who knows? After all, the boss has always moved in rather mysterious ways.

What would I do? Well, let's put it this way. With progress in three competitions very much on the line for us in the next fortnight or so, you need as many proven specialists in as many areas of the pitch as possible. My fellow Gooners, I invite you to make of that statement what you will.

Above all however, I hope that Arsene has used this week to do what he said he would - get the players to refocus. Regardless of who is available or not and regardless of who may come in and who may not, I don't think there is anything wrong in reminding the players once again about all the derogatory things that were said about us by all and sundry last summer.

In fact, in spite of the fact that we only trail ManUre on goal difference, I don't think there is any harm in Arsene reminding the players of the legions of people who have spent the whole season proper telling us about what we can't win, what we won't win and we don't supposedly have in terms of squad strength.

These are some of the real motivational tools he has at his disposal right now. It's not about sending a message out to the players that they should be happy just to be that close to ManUre, it's about telling them that they have a given themselves a base from which they can have a real tilt at the title and that they have a real chance to do more than just make up the numbers in this league.

It's also worth remembering that ManUre have lost more games in the Premier League than we have in ALL competitions so far this season. So despite what happened against Birmingham, this is a not a time to start to doubting ourselves unduly.

We have answered virtually all the questions and passed all the supposed tests that have confronted us so far. Without doubt, the aim is to keep on doing that, keep pushing on and see where things take us.

Now it's time for me to have a quick look at Saturday's trip to Craven Cottage where we will face Fulham.

I have to admit that the appointment of Roy Hodgson as Fulham manger came right out of left field. He certainly wasn't one the red hot candidates to succeed Lawrie Sanchez in the eyes of the press and the media and when talking about who's hot in football and even who is not, he was certainly a guy that had fallen off my radar.

Hodgson of course is one a rare bread of Englishman that has plied his trade mainly overseas and his CV can boast a spell in charge of Inter Milan at club level and national posts with Switzerland and Finland. He also knows the Premier League having had a spell at Blackburn a few years back and now he is back to have another crack at things over here.

The word on the street is that he is on the verge of his first major signing in the shape of Marlon King. The question I would ask is whether the imminent signing of King may have come a little too late for Cottagers.

It has been a hard season for the Cottagers in one way or another and what has not helped their cause is their inability to hold onto a lead. I believe they have led on nine occasions in games this season and failed to win any of them. They fell foul of that very same habit last week at Upton Park where West Ham came from behind to beat them 2-1.

What I do know about the Cottagers is that they have given the Arsenal problems in recent meetings. They arguably put on the best display that any team managed to muster up against last season at the Cottage on the way to beating us 2-1.

The final scoreline may have been close but the reality was that we should have lost by a much wider margin. To put last season's match in boxing terms, we were on the ropes being backed up virtually all night long and they ran out undoubtedly worthy winners.

The victory we got over this lot on the opening day was perhaps the biggest result in terms of morale we have gained so far this season. For long periods the game was generally a re-run of all the games we played early on at home the season before.

David Healy put Fulham into the lead after barely a minute after an almighty ricket from Lehmann and not only did Fulham threaten to hold on for an unlikely win they will look back on a couple of golden chances they spurned to put them into what would have been a decisive 2-0 lead.

It was down to Alex Hleb in the end to ultimately turn the game around for us right at the death and the platform for Arsenal's season to date was laid pretty much there and then.

Who will be the key men for Fulham on Saturday? I would say Danny Murphy, Diomansy Kamara and the returning Jimmy Bullard. I know that he has been laid up for a considerable amount time but he is a real class act with a proper football brain and two great feet and notwithstanding his long lay off I believe that Fulham will play well if he plays well.

If the game at the start of the season was pivotal for Arsenal then this game falls very much into the same category. We failed to restore some momentum against Birmingham and if we fail again at the Cottage on Saturday, then the press and the media will not only hesitate in delivering what they will see as the last rites on our season, they will do it with a considerable amount of relish.

We have proved a lot of people wrong in many ways so far this season and claimed a few moral victories along the way. However this is where the hard yards start being made in the title race from now on and this is the sort of game where we will find out if Arsenal can make those hard yards in the face of adversity.

I've seen us do it many times in the past. I just hope that we can do it again on Saturday.