Stressful but successful week

Posted by Sam Limbert

Regardless of Tottenham's win and Chelsea's draw on Sunday, Arsene Wenger and Arsenal can view the past week as successful, with seven points picked up from a possible nine. Of the seven, none were picked up in a convincing manner. But while the Gunners might not be at their fluent best, the winning habit is a difficult one to get out of and momentum is carrying them through a strong run toward the end of the season.

After coming from a goal down to beat Norwich last weekend and getting a draw from an intense midfield battle with Everton, when Fulham’s Steve Sidwell was sent off after 12 minutes at Craven Cottage on Saturday, Arsenal fans would have been forgiven for thinking that they might have been in for a more comfortable ride than the previous matches during the week.

-Wenger needs striking 'solution'

A lot of the nervy 1-0 victory at Fulham made for extremely painful viewing, but the pressure put on other teams by the three points was more important than the performance.

After Sidwell left, Arsenal had plenty of possession but struggled to make inroads through the organised Fulham defence. The Gunners didn't seem to deal well with the pressure of playing against 10 men and the expectation of a comfortable win that comes with such a situation.

There were plenty of sideways passes, so Fulham's defence were able to sit on the edge of their penalty area and deny Arsenal space to play intricate passes forward. While I thought it was the right decision to not start Jack Wilshere after he struggled to make an impact against Norwich and Everton, his driving runs from midfield could have helped open up the 10 men.

It is a concern that Arsenal lacked attacking fluency most of last week, but the team made sure they did enough to get seven points. The major positive from the week has been the defending. Fulham were dangerous on the break, but Arsenal didn't get sucked into making the sort of mistakes that have cost the team too many points this season.

Wojciech Szczesny came back into the team on Tuesday and has kept two consecutive clean sheets. He made some smart saves on Saturday and looks much more focused after his spell on the sidelines. His return has also been helped by having settled and confident centre backs in front of him. Laurent Koscielny got the assist for Per Mertesacker's score, but it is in their primary roles in defence where they are also excelling.

After Fulham’s lousy midweek showing against Chelsea, it was a credit to them for the pressure they put on Arsenal, even with a man disadvantage. With other facets of the team not firing, Arsenal's defence had to stay calm with to see the match out, and Mertesacker and Koscielny did that perfectly.

With some of their offside lines and the way they scored from the set-piece, comparisons with Tony Adams and Steve Bould are justified for the current defensive duo.

Along with Fulham's second-half surge, Arsenal nerves weren’t helped by Olivier Giroud's sending off. The challenge didn’t seem as malicious as Sidwell’s from the first half, but looked clumsy after he miscontrolled the ball. It was a harsh red card, and while I’d like to see Arsenal appeal it, I’d be surprised if it was overturned.

That does leave Arsenal short on strikers for the next three matches. There will be an obvious focus on former Arsenal captain Robin van Persie being up front for Manchester United next weekend, but there should be more of an interest in who Wenger selects to lead the line for his side.

Giroud might not have been in great form, but losing players at this stage of the season isn’t helpful. Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski look to be the likely replacements.

Arsenal now have until next Sunday to recover from a stressful week, but a week that has put pressure on Chelsea and Tottenham in the Champions League chase. There's plenty to work on, but to have emerged from these three matches with seven points sets Arsenal up with momentum for coming games with the likely Champions and relegation fighters. Don't expect them to be relaxing to watch, though.

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