Saturday, November 10, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: November 11, 3:50 PM UK
Positivity fails to mask Arsenal problems
Miguel Delaney, Emirates Stadium
In many ways, the only way to even begin discussing a match that overloaded with incidents is with understatement.
• Blog: The ever confusing Arsenal
• Blog: Put through the mill
Rather admirably, having been asked all manner of questions about his team and his management, that was exactly what Arsene Wenger attempted. "Defensively, I don't think it was a historic performance," he said.
There was a lot less to admire, however, about Arsenal's performance overall. In fact, beyond the forward line, there were a lot of problems. Ultimately, those problems led to the loss of a 2-0 lead, a 3-3 draw and the club's worst start to a season in the Premier League era.
Indeed, it says a lot that Arsenal remain on level on points on with Fulham. That was evident in almost every aspect of the performance, as a defeat would even been harsher on Martin Jol's side than the decision that led to the late penalty that Mikel Arteta missed.
Wenger refused to criticise Spaniard and fairly wrote it off as "part of the game". That fitted the entire tone of what was expected to be a tense post-game press conference. Instead, Wenger remained defiantly positive given the amount of problems his team are facing at the moment as he straight-batted all questions.
"There are a lot of positives in our team," he said. "At the moment, we are not getting the performances we want, but there is good potential in our side. We have shown we can fight. Second half we have absolutely everything and I have to give credit to the players. At 3-2 down, we didn't give up."
Ultimately, though, Wenger couldn't hide a "frustration" with his team's defensive issues. As talk grows that the relationship between the manager and Steve Bould is worsening, there are were at least a fair few ruptures evident in the backline.
"It's frustrating because we had opportunities to win the game and because we were caught in a bit too comfortable a position," Wenger added. "When you score two goals at half-time, then at half-time you find yourself at 2-2... at that moment, we lacked urgency defensively.
"I would say, first of all, both teams are good going forward. I feel we were most guilty on the corners. We were 2-0 up. It can happen that, with Berbatov, they can create chances, but nobody jumped for the ball. At home, that doesn't often happen."
Unfortunately for Arsenal, though, it has been happening with much greater frequency over the last two seasons. The ease with which Berbatov nodded home the first Fulham goal and was then allowed to cross for Alex Kacaniklic to equalise were cases in point.
Again, though, Wenger tried to look to the positives, to the stirring second-half display. "The positive is that we can score goals now but the negative is we conceded three goals."
Even that plus point, however, has to be put into a certain context. Arsenal's first two goals were as much down to Fulham's own poor defending as their creativity and they were the only two efforts they really had in the first half.
Olivier Giroud took advantage of lax marking at a set-piece to head home the first, before a Fulham mishap allowed Arteta in to square for Podolski.
One genuine positive out of this game, though, was the general display of the French forward. Although Giroud did miss one fine chance towards the end, the problems he had in front of goal earlier in the season seem forgotten as he scored twice and provided some superb hold-up play.
Wenger made sure to credit him afterwards. Giroud was at the centre of every Arsenal attack, as the team did admirably to pick up pace and urgency in the second half - so much pace and urgency, in fact, that it was too quick for Steve Sidwell. The midfielder was fortunate not to be sent off when he took down Santi Cazorla while on a booking.
And, to add insult to injustice, Arsenal were themselves immediately penalised when Arteta felled the brilliant Bryan Ruiz in the penalty area. Typifying a performance that was both casual and completely productive, Berbatov stroked home the penalty nonchalantly.
It was then that Giroud rose to the occasion by also rising to meet a Walcott cross in order to equalise but, in the end, Arsenal couldn't maximise their otherwise stirring late siege. In truth, it would have been unfair on Fulham, who rallied well and often played football that would compare well to that produced by any other team in the Premier League at the moment.
More pointedly, and more worryingly for Wenger, Martin Jol's side seemed to sense a vulnerability in Arsenal and really went for it.
Earlier this season, Wenger spoke of how certain results had "psychological damage" on his team. You would wonder what the effect of this oddly oscillating game will be.
"We played some fantastic stuff," Jol said. "We tried to dominate the game. I think we were very brave." Ultimately, though, even the Dutchman admitted to "mixed feelings". It summed up the game.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have a lot of issues to sort if they are to prevent what would be a historically poor season. They remain outside the Champions League places and, in truth, they are some way off form.