Arsenal v Fulham
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: January 18, 2014 3.00 PM BST
A Cazorla brace makes sure Arsenal remain firmly atop the Premier League. A Fulham team, which many were expecting Arsenal to walk all over, put up a bit of a fight at times. But once the first goal eventually came, a win for the Gunners never looked in doubt.
There were suggestions that Arteta and Ramsey might make returns from injuries for todays’ game at the Emirates, but neither were in the squad. Instead we saw an unchanged side to the one that faced Villa during the week. Many were calling for Cazorla to be dropped after a number of sub par performances this season, but I’m sure they’ll be thankful that they aren’t the ones in charge of selection after the impact Santi had today.
The opening few minutes were played at an extremely high tempo, Arsenal dominating possession, and applying instant pressure the moment Fulham got a man on the ball. After just four minutes it looked like the Gunners should have taken the lead, Wilshere and Özil linking up superbly to put the German through on goal. The playmaker tried to find Giroud with a cut back rather than shooting himself however, which seemed like the wrong decision and was cleared easily.
Gnabry and Giroud got themselves into decent shooting positions, but both players shot well wide, and the high tempo Arsenal were playing at was beginning to slow. A game that was looking all Arsenal initially, was gradually starting to swing Fulham’s way. The Cottagers were putting a number of decent crosses in, and the Gunners defence had to be alert. One such cross was cleared by Sagna, but only as far as Sidwell. He lashed a shot goalwards, and it was only a strong wrist from Szczesny that kept it out of the net.
The Pole was called on several times in the half, having to operate as a sweeper keeper to deny chances for Dejagah and Kaciniklic. Thankfully he was alert and quick to react, coming to the rescue when required.
Arsenal had two efforts cleared off the line in the aftermath of a Cazorla free kick, and Gnabry saw another couple of long shots sail wide. But we went into half time goalless, expecting more from the second forty five.
Fulham earned an early corner in the second half, and there was a pinball moment in the box before it was eventually cleared by Gnabry. The young German then went up the other end and had a superb curling effort saved by Stekelenburg, after cutting in and drifting past three defenders.
It seemed like it wasn’t going to be Arsenal’s day, when another Cazorla free kick resulted in shots being cleared off the line not once but twice. First Sagna’s sliding effort at the far post, and then Gnabry’s shot unluckily striking his own man before being cleared.
But their day was significantly brightened moments later, when Santi Cazorla popped up with that all important goal. Giroud and Wilshere combined well, allowing the Englishmen to cut back across goal. Having started the move, Cazorla continued his run into the box, and put the ball past Stekelenburg to make it 1-0.
Having not been in the best form this season, you would hope that this goal would spur the Spaniard on. And it certainly seemed to, as moments later he doubled his and Arsenal’s tally with a low driven shot into the bottom corner. Monreal had put a relatively harmless cross in, but Hangeland’s clearance was poor and straight to Cazorla, the goal opening up in front of him. 2-0 Arsenal.
After that the result never seemed in question, Arsenal comfortable on the ball and seemed the more likely of the two teams to get the next goal. Gnabry had been good once again, but was replaced late on by his compatriot; Lukas Podoslki. His impact was instantaneous, almost scoring with his first involvement were it not for a good defensive block. A moment later he was again unlucky not to score, a rocket of a strike pushed onto the post by Stekelenburg.
Mertesacker went to sleep momentarily, letting substitute Darren Bent through on goal. A lucky bounce allowed him to take it past Szczesny (the Pole’s first mistake of the game), but thanks to some excellent pressure from Koscielny, the front man put it wide from a few yards out; injuring himself as he did so.
Arsenal substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain slid in needlessly on Berbatov in a dangerous area, putting Szczesny under pressure in extra time. Kasami drove the free kick low around the wall, and although Szczesny spilled it initially, he was quick to pounce on it to preserve the Gunners’ clean sheet.
Not the toughest of games, but another solid defensive display. Three points keeps us top of the table, and hopefully Santi will be buoyed by his brace, and will rekindle some of last season’s form.
on the performance…
We were in control for the 90 minutes buta bit one-paced in the first half with our passing. In the second half when we got up a gear we scored the goals. Santi got two good goals and from then on we looked like we would get the points. We had a few more chances but overall in games against teams who fight not to go down, it is very difficult. Sometimes it is a question of patience.
on Cazorla’s display…
He was out for a long time at the start of the season and had some injury problems. After that he had an ankle problem and only recently, since mid-December, has he come back to his level.
on his incisiveness…
When you play in your opponents’ half, in the final third, he is one of the players who can create something special, either through his passing or through his finishing. He is two-footed, and that makes him vey dangerous.
on his understanding with Wilshere…
Wilshere is getting sharper now as well and he was at the start of many moves with little bursts to speed up our game.
on rumours of a deal for Vucinic…
We are looking at potential possibilities for us to get someone in, but we are not especially in for Vucinic.
on rumours of a meeting with his agent…
Some people have visual capacities that I don’t have!
on transfer plans…
We are not on any special case. I would love to announce something that would excite you and me, but i don’t have the possibility to do it.
Every player who is on the bench is frustrated. But Lukas has a fantastic spirit and attitude and he showed that when he came on. He will play. he has been out for four-and-a-half months and it takes time, but he looks sharp. When he comes in he gives us something. First of all his occupies the flank well, his left foot is intelligent and dangerous. He is now physically ready.
on whether he can play up front…
He can as well, because if he is in front of goal and you give him one chance, you score with him. He doesn’t hit it in the stand.
on where the team stands…
Look we have played 22 games and have 51 points. If you compare that to any other season you will see that it is one of the best, if not the best ever. So let’s just continue. We have a good solidarity in the group and we rotate a bit and sometimes great players are on the bench. You want me to buy more players, but if they sit on the bench you ask me why!
on how the team are playing…
I am happy with the performance of my team because we have been remarkably consistent. let’s not forget that we had a difficult start and we have shown all kind of ingredients technically, but as well mentally to respond to what happened to us at the start of the season. It was not easy and we played two more games in the Champions League as well.
Here are some of the top tweets from today’s game:
“Flamini is so badass he even knocks his own teammates out.”
“If I was Dejagah, I’d be shi**ing my pants after that foul on Flamini.”
“Santi!!!! 2-0 Left foot, right foot. It doesn’t matter!!”
“Poldi so fired up. When he got the call to come on, he was pumping his fist to the fans as if he’d scored.”
“Deserved that in the end. Definitely room for improvement but, you know, top of the league.”
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Sagna Mertesacker(c) Koscielny Monreal
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