Nervous work as Gunners hang on to take three points

Posted by Andrew Mangan

Arsenal's 1-0 win over Fulham is not one that will remembered for much other than the fact the Gunners got another crucial three points under their belt.

- Mertesacker header proves enough

The home side was reduced to 10 men in the 12th minute when Steve Sidwell was shown a straight red card for a challenge on Mikel Arteta. While not two-footed, Sidwell's lunge was over the ball and caught the Spaniard high on the shin. Arsenal fans don't need reminding of the tackle that splintered Eduardo da Silva's leg at Birmingham some years ago; this was of that ilk.

All the same, it was hard to see the advantage over the course of the game. In truth, Fulham looked the most threatening at times, with Wojciech Szczesny forced into a good save from Dimitar Berbatov. Arsenal appeared listless and tired, perhaps the fact this is the first time they've played three games in a week since early March caught up with them.

Chances from open play were few and far between, so it was important Arsenal made the most of set pieces. If you were asked to rate the quality of Arsenal's corners today, you would need to find new swear words to explain how woeful they were, which makes the fact that the winner came from a free kick all the more amusing.

Theo Walcott's delivery was good. He found Laurent Koscielny at the back post, whose header across goal was headed in by defensive partner Per Mertesacker. The two centre-halves were easily Arsenal's best players on the day, telling in a match when the Gunners were playing against 10 men.

As the second half progressed, there seemed little spark to Arsene Wenger's team. There was a lot of passing from one side of the pitch to the other -- a testament to Fulham's hard work and defensive discipline as much as anything else -- so the Arsenal manager tried to change things, taking off Walcott and Tomas Rosicky and bringing on Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski.

Instead of sparking Arsenal into life, it seemed to have the opposite effect. As the game headed toward a conclusion, Fulham found wind in their sails and Arsenal were nervous and went to pieces. Fulham won a series of dangerous free kicks and thought they scored from one, but Stanislav Manolev was offside when he tucked home the rebound after Szczesny had saved from Bryan Ruiz.

It's nervous work being an Arsenal fan at the moment. There were shades of the West Brom game when they hung onto a slender lead, and when Olivier Giroud was sent off in the 90th minute, it smelled for all the world as if Fulham would equalise. The dismissal was understandable; referees often even things up, but it was harsh -- the Frenchman got the ball before making contact with the opponent -- and if the red card is upheld, he'll miss three of Arsenal's final four games.

On current form, you might say that's not necessarily a bad thing, but given the lack of options and Arsenal's need for points, it's going to make a tough run-in even more difficult.

Still, at this point of the season, there's no comfort in playing well if the result isn't right; the points are the only thing that matters. It means Arsenal climb back to third, for the time being, and can spend the next week preparing for the visit of Manchester United and a certain former striker.

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