A brief look at our results in the second half of April and May since 2009-10 does not really inject any optimism. We have played fifteen matches in the second half of April and May in 2009, 2010 and 2011 with only three victories. On five occasions our opponents took all three points while seven times the match ended draw. 16 points out of possible 45 (just a little bit over 33.33 percent) are poor results even if you are fighting just to avoid relegation, never mind winning the league or one of four Champions’ League spots.
Our first match in the second half of April 2013 was a home draw against Everton so it was a reasonable thing to believe that bad tradition would continue to haunt us, especially given that we played a very dangerous Fulham side that we couldn’t beat in four previous Premiership matches.
And, indeed, today’s performance nearly drove us in that direction.
Arsene Wenger made a few much needed and expected changes to the squad that played against Everton. Tomas Rosicky returned to the starting 11 at the expense of Jack Wilshere, while Nacho Monreal replaced Kieran Gibbs on the left side of defense. Lukas Podolski, however, was on the bench again despite Giroud’s poor away record in Premiership (just one goal) and missed chances against Everton. Perhaps Wenger opted for Giroud due to his brilliant performance against Fulham in the reverse fixture when he scored a brace.
We started with some sort of domination in possession with a disallowed Walcott goal because the English striker was offside. The most important moment of the match probably happened in 12th minute. Sidwell attempted to take the ball away from Arteta with a brutal challenge on Spaniard’s ankle. Marriner made the right decision and gave a red card to Sidwell. In a normal occasion, it would be a walk in the park for the team of Arsenal’s quality. However, being an Arsenal fan means you have to be prepared for complications even when there shouldn’t be one. Our game didn’t create enough space to break down the Fulham defense and Schwarzer was basically a bystander. Actually, it was Fulham that had the first great chance. Ruiz ran with ball to our half before releasing Berbatov on the right side of the D-area. Koscielny slipped so the ball came to Berbatov who fired a low shot to the near post but Sczszesny pulled an amazing save to keep his sheet untouched. Monreal’s closing down on Berbatov probably helped our goalkeeper a bit by making a tighter angle for Bulgarian striker.
It took about quarter of hour from that Sczszesny save for us to make a decent chance. Cazorla found Giroud with ball just outside the box. The Frenchman fired a low diagonal shot only to hit the far post. On the other side of the pitch Monreal wasn’t very cautious which allowed Emanuelson to pick-pocket him. The on-loan Ajax player fired a low shot to the same place Berbatov did, but Sczszesny pulled another save. Three minutes later, we scored.
Walcott took a free-kick from 35 yards on the right side of attack. His cross was met by Koscielny’s header that turned out to be a perfect lay-off for the totally alone Mertesacker who put it home to make it 1:0.
Giroud failed to connect with Walcott’s decent cross a moments later. Had the Frenchman scored, we probably would have had a much easier afternoon.
The other half wasn’t very eventful. It was a nervy performance from our side which was torn between desire to score another goal of the game and the pressure of a 10-man-Fulham side that forced us to defend the lead. Manolev’s cross, which made Sczszesny tip the ball over the bar, was the first real goal-scoring chance at 70 minutes. Fulham attacked but there were no clear-cut chances for them, while our attempts weren’t too dangerous neither. Wenger added some fresh blood by replacing Rosicky and Walcott with Wilshere and Podolski respectively. Still, nothing worth of mentioning happened before the 90th minute when Giroud made a bad challenge on Manolev deep in the half of Fulham. He got a straight red card that will probably force him to sit on the stands for the next three matches. When they were leveled in number of players, Fulham tried again to score an equalizer but it was Aaron Ramsey that had the best chance in injury time but he sent the ball wide.
Personally, I’m happy with outcome but our performance against the team that had 10 men for nearly 80 minutes was appalling. Every goal could make a difference between us and the Chavs, which means there is a further reason to improve our finishing. Our next match is against FAnchester United and we should play much, much, much better in order to keep our chances for a Champions’ League spot alive. It’s a good thing that we won despite our performance, that is something great teams occasionally do, but against FAnchester United that sort of sterile football won’t get us anywhere.
on a nervous finish…
Yes it was tight at the end because we couldn’t score the second goal. I feel that we became cautious in the second half. Our first half was quite good. We were in control and played well with 11 against 11. Up to half-time we were alright with 11 against 10. In the second half, I felt [we wanted] to protect the lead and not to make a mistake. The final 10 minutes were really nervy because they started to play direct. They had a few dangerous balls in the box and it was difficult but it’s still a very important win for us.
on the red cards…
I spoke with Giroud. He said to me that he slipped at the moment he went for the ball and it’s confirmed by the television. I haven’t seen it but he’s not a tackler. He went over the ball and knowing that Sidwell had been sent off before, I had no illusion of the colour of the card.
on if he will appeal Giroud’s red…
I have to see it again. I haven’t seen it on television.
on Sidwell’s red card…
Sidwell’s challenge was in front of me. I’ve seen that better. I think the referee had only the red card to give.
on Arteta avoiding a serious injury…
He played the second half but I don’t know how much damage it’s done. It was a kick. I don’t know if he has twisted his ankle a little bit or not. In this kind of things, it’s just a question of a fraction of a second. If you are fully on your foot at the moment you get it, you break your leg. If you just ease a bit off [you can prevent injury]. Maybe that’s why he got away with it.
on getting protection…
Against Everton it was a very physical game. Somewhere I feel that physically we were a bit jaded today in the second half, maybe because we gave a lot against Everton. I’ve seen that Everton lost at Sunderland. It was a very physical game on Tuesday night.
on the second-half performance…
I put it down to psychological reasons and to the fact that we didn’t want to be stupid. You are a bit under pressure when you play 11 against 10 because you think that with every foul you risk a second yellow card so they do not go in the challenges. The crowd is behind their team. it becomes a different problem. In the end, we have a fantastic spirit and that got us through.
on if Arsenal are favourites for top-four place now…
We are on a strong run and we just go into the next game and focus on winning that. The next game will be Man United so it’s a good challenge for us.
on putting pressure on teams around them…
It’s important for us to win our games of course.
on Wilshere needing a rest…
He played on Saturday and he played on Tuesday. He is still not completely recovered and pain free. I took the decision to rest him today.
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Arteta (c) Ramsey
Wojciech Sczszesny | 7.5: Protected our net when Berbatov had a chance, but nearly caused problems when he was dealing with Richardson’s free-kick. Still, two consecutive clean sheets for the cheeky Pole s something that should do a lot for his confidence.
Bacary Sagna | 6.0: Not the best performance by Sagna. I’ve already written a lot about his poor crossing this season, there is nothing new in that department.
Per Mertesacker | 8.0: Scored the goal that might turn out to be the most important of the season and defended well. He gave another tidy performance in defense.
Laurent Koscielny | 7.0: Unfortunately had a slip that allowed Berbatov to have a chance, but otherwise was one of rare people who deserved a high mark. Produced an assist for Mertesacker’s goal and it seems their partnership might be our strongest argument for Champions League qualification.
Nacho Monreal | 6.0: Emanuelson didn’t give him a comfortable afternoon. Still, made an important tackle.
Mikel Arteta | 6.0: Earned Sidwell’s red card but didn’t offer too much, just like most of his team-mates.
Aaron Ramsey | 6.0: He should have afforded us a bit of relaxation when he had a chance to make it 2:0. It wasn’t the performance like the previous ones, but his team-work has been exceptional on a constant level.
Tomas Rosicky | 6.0: Failed to make an impact. Our creative players should have better used the fact we were playing 11 against 10 for nearly 80 minutes.
Theo Walcott | 5.5: Took a free-kick out after which Mertesacker scored. His form has been awful lately.
Santi Cazorla | 5.5: Didn’t show his usual quality. Hopefully he is reserving his best for the match against FAnchester United.
Olivier Giroud | 4.0: He hit the post eventually, but his red card symbolizes his poor week. After a lot of misses against Everton, he earned himself a probable three-match-suspension with a mistimed tackle. I would be very, very, very surprised if he gets another season in which he’ll have a chance to play 50 matches or be a leading Arsenal striker.
Lukas Podolski | 5.5: This match probably earned him a place in starting 11 for the next three matches but, sadly, it wasn’t due to his performance.
Jack Wilshere | 6.0: His return to the level of performances before his six-week-lay-off will take a while.
Thomas Vermaelen | N/A: Entered the pitch due to tactical reasons.
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