Arsenal threw away a 2-0 lead for the second time in a few days on Saturday. The Gunners had lost a 2-0 lead midweek in Germany against Schalke, drawing that game 2-2. They were looking to recover with a win over London rivals Fulham on Saturday afternoon.
11 minutes into the game, Olivier Giroud headed in from a Theo Walcott corner to give the Gunners the lead. Giroud has had his critics this season and both Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski would like to be playing where he is rather than on either wing, so you could say that the Frenchman is under pressure to perform already.
In the 23rd minute, Arsenal made the game seemingly a little more comfortable. Mikel Arteta pulled the ball back for Lukas Podolski to score his first league goal since September.
Much like many goals Arsenal have conceded in recent years, the hosts gifted Fulham a route back into the game because of some poor marking. Dimitar Berbatov headed in from a Bryan Ruiz corner. Arsenal didn’t pick him up and were made to pay for the poor defending.
Ten minutes later and Fulham’s goalscorer turned provider when he set up Alex Kacaniklic to level the scores at 2-2.
In the 67th minute, Fulham had turned the game on it’s head, taking a 3-2 lead. Arteta lost possession to the impressive Ruiz and the Costa Rican was then taken down by Arteta, leaving the referee with no choice but to point to the spot. Up stepped Berbatov, who coolly slotted in the resulting spot kick to give the visitors the lead for the first time in the match.
Arsenal’s reply was instant. Giroud was played in by Santi Cazorla’s delightful ball and the Frenchman hit the post. After hitting the post the ball came out to Walcott, who crossed for Giroud to head in for the second time in the match.
Now it was all about finding the winner. Both Giroud and Berbatov were chasing their hat-tricks and the Frenchman went closest when his shot from range was saved by Mark Schwarzer. Fulham’s best chance of stealing all three points came from Ashkan Dejagah, who failed to punish Arsenal for allowing him some space inside the box.
In stoppage time the Gunners had one final push for the three points. Substitute Andrei Arshavin’s cross hit the arm of Sascha Riether, which gave Arsenal a penalty in the dying seconds. Mikel Arteta, who had conceded a penalty at the other end earlier in the game, had the chance to make up for that by winning the game for his side in the final seconds. Arteta failed to convert from the spot and Arsenal had to settle for a point on yet another frustrating day at the Emirates.
I was surprised Arteta took the spot kick. I do remember him taking some for Everton when he played there. In fact if my memory serves me correctly, I believe his last kick in an Everton shirt was a penalty he scored against Blackburn a few days before his deadline day move to Arsenal in 2011. But with Giroud still on the pitch, one goal away from hat-trick and in form too, would you say Arteta, who seemed to be low on confidence anyway, was the better option?. Now anyone can miss a spot kick, but in those circumstances, I’d trust my striker more than a player who is now more a defensive midfielder than anything. Maybe Giroud didn’t want it. He missed one against Coventry in the League Cup, so possibly that was in mind when they decided who took it. I give credit to Arteta for having the balls to take it on, anyone who takes a penalty in that situation is certainly brave.
I looked on the American Arsenal website to see if the game was on television on Thursday I believe. It had no information regarding the television so I assumed that the Fox Soccer Channel wasn’t showing it or anyone else. Fortunately, I was searching the TV guide in the morning and I could see that ESPN2 was showing the rgame here in the States. I was busy that day out in Chicago, so when I got in from a day out in the city, I could watch the game without knowing the score at all.
The recording worked perfectly until about the 2nd minute of stoppage time. Just about before Arsenal got the penalty. As it turned out, the recording came back as they were finishing up the show and they showed all the goals and then the penalty incident and resulting spot kick. I saw Arteta had missed it (I could just about make out the number 8 shirt from the angle they showed it) and had to double check it wasn’t my eyes going funny on me by checking the BBC website.
Arsenal need to find their belief and confidence soon. A win this weekend against Tottenham would do the trick, rather like last year when they came back from 2-0 down to win 5-2 against their North London neighbours. Arsenal’s form improved a lot from that day onwards, which coincided with Tottenham’s dip in form, allowing Arsenal to pip Spurs to third place, which proved crucial at the end of the season, with Chelsea taking Spurs’ Champions League place as defending champions. They need a result next week that will boost their confidence. They need to defend much better too, as it has been poor of late. Spurs aren’t going to be pushovers, but they are certainly a team we can beat if we play well as a team. The atmosphere should play a big part in the team’s performance as this is one of the few times that it is actually loud for near enough the full 90 minutes.