The draw with Fulham was a reminder that, despite our good form, this Arsenal team are still progressing and are nowhere near the finished article. It also showed the reality that the team have put in so much effort over the last few weeks to compensate for the failures at the start of the season, that they’re suffering physically and there were definite signs of fatigue on Saturday.
That said, it was the sort of match we’d have lost last season or at the start of this season. Despite being near the bottom of the table, Fulham were really organised and defended very well. Even with Philippe Senderos playing for them we struggled to break through.
Saying Thomas Vermaelen had an interesting game is an understatement. His own goal was unfortunate, but arguably came from poor technique when trying to clear the ball. Having scored the own goal though, I doubt there are many centre backs in the Premier League who would be able to atone for the error in the way Vermaelen did.
An own goal like that would have ruined the rest of the match for most of the other centre backs at the club had they scored it. Vermaelen was different. He became a man on a mission and charged forward to get on the end of a brilliant Theo Walcott cross to score at the right end. It was a fantastic header and sort of initiative and responsibility we’ve been missing in our players in recent years. It also was a reminder of why the fans love Vermaelen so much. He doesn’t let a mistake affect him, and if one does happen, he’ll do everything to correct it.
Theo Walcott’s cross for the goal was sublime, and showed the improvement he’s made in recent weeks. He was definitely one of the better performers on the day, along with Johan Djourou at right back.
The concern for all Arsenal fans will be how tired the team looked. The first XI have had to be overworked in recent weeks, and the lack of plan B is concerning. Marouane Chamakh came off the bench, yet it took a centre back to charge forward to show him how to find space in the box and get on the end of a cross.
Andrey Arshavin showed glimpses of his ability, but unfortunately glimpses were about it. Compared to Arshavin, Gervinho has looked energetic on the left during the revival and has been an integral part of our subtle change of style and formation. We’ve been able to attack with pace with both Walcott and Gervinho on the flanks, encouraging them to beat players and find van Persie in the middle. It could be down to a lack of confidence from not playing, but the Russian seemed reluctant to run at the opponents, something Gervinho always looks to do.
Overall, the Fulham match should be viewed as two points dropped, however given the tired nature of the team, the solid organisation of the opposition, and after being 1-0 down, the team battled back well when not playing brilliantly. The match did serve as a timely reminder that neither the team, or us as fans, can get complacent about getting back in the top four. Just because the first XI have done so well in recent weeks doesn’t mean we’re now safe. The whole squad has to step up.
Hopefully they will tonight as I expect a number of squad players to get the chance to build up some confidence with a good performance against Manchester City in the Carling Cup. It’s a difficult situation for Wenger as he’ll want to really go for the Carling Cup following the disappointing of Birmingham and Wembley last season, however he’s publicly spoken of players like Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey being in the ‘red zone’ of fitness. We’ve seen what happened to Jack Wilshere with his long term injury after entering the ‘red zone’, so we clearly need to manage the fitness of our key players. A week off before Wigan, and then another week off as we don’t have to send a strong team to Olympiacos should help matters.
I’d imagine the line-up will be similar to the one that beat Bolton in the previous round, with players like Emmanuel Frimpong, Francis Coquelin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andrey Arshavin, Yossi Benayoun and Ju-Young Park all likely to make appearances. City will also make changes, but with their riches, their second team is hardly going to be weak.
Realistically, we’re not favourites for the game. However there’s something a little bit special about Carling Cup nights at the Emirates. We’re yet to lose at home in the competition since the move in 2006, and all those wearing red and white will go out with a point to prove and a determination to do well for a lively crowd.
Speaking of the crowd, the atmosphere at Carling Cup matches is usually excellent. It’ll undoubtedly be increased if a certain ex-Gunner lines up for City. Of the ex-Arsenal players at Manchester City, Kolo Toure will get a good reception from the Arsenal fans, as will Gael Clichy. As much as Arsene Wenger has called for fans to respect what Samir Nasri did for the club, his departure in the summer left a nasty taste in the mouth of all Gooners. I’ll be staggered if the match passes without Nasri getting Frimponged.
I’m really looking forward to the game, and with City wobbling slightly following their European defeat, if our enthusiastic side really attack them early in the match, I think we can get through.
However as much as our team had a small dose of reality against Fulham, the horrible and sudden reality of one of our players of the season, and captain of his national team, losing his international manager Gary Speed on Sunday, was a reminder to all fans that there is always more to life than football. Although he never played for Arsenal, Speed earned the respect of fans of all clubs, and was becoming a fantastic international manager. He’ll be a huge miss to the world of football.