EPL 2006: Fulham 0 – Arsenal 4

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
March 5th, 2006 • 10:46 am

That’s more like it! There was definitely a feeling that good old Wenger’s Arsenal was back in business on Saturday. It was the same kind of combination of outrageous domination, innumerable chances, and fairly solid defending that was so typical of the “Invincibles” of 2004. The score could fairly easily have been 0-7 or 0-8.

The trouble is, of course, that this particular result proves very little, because once again it was achieved against an opposition that gave the Gunners enough space to play. There were no fierce tackles, no unrelenting mid-field pressure—none of the tactics that have been used so successfully by other teams this season to frustrate and thwart the Gunners.

In truth, Chris Coleman’s Fulham simply does not have the personnel to use such tactics, especially in the absence of Diop. But they were indeed a bit too “respectful” of the Gunners nonetheless, and their manager was justifiably disappointed with their performance.

On the other hand, there were some encouraging signs in this game for people who are concerned about the lack of commitment of some “senior” players in the Arsenal team. Ljungberg and Gilberto Silva had a good game, and Thierry Henry was seen more than once tracking back to help out the defenders and regain possession of the ball, which is something that he hasn’t done often enough in recent times.

Hleb also had another good game, Touré was once again outstanding, and the young guns did pretty well. This is of course very encouraging, and the victory will undoubtedly be a good morale booster ahead of the Champions’ League game on Wednesday. If all goes according to plan and the Gunners do manage to eliminate Real Madrid, then the next big test will be next Sunday, obviously, with the home game against Liverpool.

Liverpool have pretty serious problems with their strike force (as demonstrated once again by the 0-0 draw against Charlton on Saturday), but they do concede very few goals and have a very strong midfield. The predictable outcome of this game is a 0-0 draw, but one hopes that a combination of Champions’ League success and domestic resurgence will produce a different result. Of course, it could still all go pear-shaped both in Europe and in the league for the Gunners, so let’s remain cautiously optimistic here.

Elsewhere, Chelsea were their usual, increasingly irritating selves. West Bromwich definitely didn’t deserve more than a draw, but they might have obtained one if they had started exerting real pressure sooner in the second half, especially after Robben was sent off, instead of waiting for the 80th minute and the Kanu goal. Mourinho’s ironic applause following the dismissal of his winger was particularly obnoxious. It’s one thing to be biased. Every EPL manager is biased. But it’s quite another to show such a lack of respect for the refereeing when things don’t go your way, especially when the decision that goes against you is not particularly outrageous. It was, after all, a reckless two-footed challenge.

Maybe the referee would not have pulled out the red card if he hadn’t be swarmed by so many players following the incident. But this collective swarming and outrageous theatrics, I am afraid, are tactics that Chelsea themselves have been using far too often under Mourinho’s reign. They are really doing their best to quickly become the most despised team in football, aren’t they?

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