Past form between the Clubs pointed to an Arsenal win and I have yet to meet one F in Fulham fan who has ever been optimistic about the outcome of a match against us. With Henry, Van Persie and Rosicky all back in the team a win looked a likely scenario although our in-out form meant that, as usual this season, anything could happen. If Fulham played football then we should be able to take them, if they tried to kick us off the park, which seemed unlikely, then we should still take them. Baptista by the way was rested. I suspect ‘rested' was diplomatic talk for ‘until he figures that he has to work in the Premiership' but maybe that's a tad unkind on our new boy. He clearly has class but has yet to get on the same wavelength as the team or the Premiership.
So there we all were standing in the Putney Stand and sitting 6th in the Premiership with our team behind such illustrious Clubs as Bolton, Villa and Portsmouth. Our team selection decided the result. Song in midfield was outnumbered by a five man Fulham midfield. Our full backs on the night, and I use the term ‘full backs' loosely, were Hoyte and Flamini. Rosicky and Hleb played and the rest of the team pretty well picked itself.
Let it be said that the Arsenal fans were magnificent, which is more than could be said of the team. Far more. We opened with our current speciality set play – conceding a goal from a corner. As usual Jens was more concerned with shoving people out of the way so wasn't set to make the save from McBride's near post header. Quite how the most likely Fulham forward to score with a header should get a free header at the near post is another question. A question that many of us have been asking all season especially those of us who would like to see some serious man marking at set plays.
It wasn't Song's fault that he was part of an inept four-man midfield against the five of Fulham. Gilberto was in a ‘pass to the opposition' mode. Rosicky was in an ‘I'm not really fit but I'll play a bit to get fit for a real game' mode. Hleb just does not have the muscle to knock people over or at times to remain upright himself. In short it was our normal lack of muscle and will power. We had no width because neither full back on the night got forward with anything remotely approaching effectiveness. Boa Morte and Radzinski were skinning us down the wings and Fulham were fired up after their early goal in the 6th minute. The home team squandered some chances; most noticeably Radzinski and we started to get back in the game.
But nineteen minutes in and we were 2-0 down, Boa Morte turned us, and Song in particular, inside out and placed a low cross to the far post where Flamini let Radzinski have a free run before watching him slot home from close range. Absolute rubbish defending, but was it Mathieu's fault that he was playing left back? The Arsenal fans had started to chant ‘We want Cesc Fabregas' halfway through the half even though we had finally started to get into the match at last. Chanting for Cesc was fine, but I can't go along with those amongst our number who started to boo Song. He's just nineteen years old and he had to cope with Diop whilst being out numbered. Song was no worse than anyone else, sure his play wasn't the best we've ever seen but if a player is picked to wear the shirt we should at least support them. Still if it's any consolation he's in good company: George Armstrong, John Radford, Jon Sammels, Perry Groves and Graham Rix to name but a few, were all booed by people who would like to consider themselves Arsenal fans. Despite the odd bit of booing the team were still being well supported by the majority despite the ineptitude of their performance.
Henry spent most of the half strolling around in an offside position. Despite this we managed to pull a goal back before the break thanks to a pile-driver of a free kick from Robin. It was a brilliant free kick, so there was hope.
Howard Webb let the game flow and at the same time managed to book Song, Brown, Rosenior, Senderos and Rosicky before the break. It seems to me that our players get booked because we don't know how to foul in a professional and effective manner. Our bookings are for obvious but petty demeanours or mouthing off because of frustration. While our opponents get away with professional and effective fouls like blocking players off the ball, holding players back, leaning in, backing in and obstructing at set plays. We should learn from that. Holding on to players at corners is standard play in the Premiership and I can't recall the last penalty I saw for such an offence, we should learn from that also. Our opponents tend to get booked for hacking us down and that's how it was at Fulham in the main.
In an ideal world I'd be writing about a stirring second half comeback but in all honesty there wasn't one and I don't think the team deserves a full report so I'm not doing one. Mainly because I don't wish to name and shame the headless chickens, the wimps or those lacking confidence and spirit. Arsene Wenger may be happy with how we played at Fulham but I certainly wasn't. Getting home at midnight after wasting forty quid to watch a hapless performance is not how I generally achieve happiness.
The second half saw us huff and powder-puff with a bit more promise but very little end product. Cesc came on from the start to replace Song and the team attacked towards the travelling Gooners, but we didn't improve sufficiently to alter the scoreline. Senderos, Van Persie, Flamini, Helguson and Boa Morte all got booked, which was unfortunate for us because in the case of Senderos it was his second yellow of the night. With eleven men we might have achieved a result, with ten it was very uphill. Henry netted an offside goal. Walcott came on and saw a shot tipped onto the post and away for a corner. Boa Morte hit a great freekick that crashed down from the underside of our bar, which was the worst brown-trouser moment after the break.
So we are now floundering in 6th. place some 16 points behind the leaders. The only good news on the night was when someone pointed out to me that we have no more matches in November, this year at least.