Well, that was unexpected.
It was almost as if the last hour at Hull hadn’t happened. We kept the same midfield and played football against Arsenal. A prospect that would have frightened the life out of me had you told me beforehand, but, not only did we stifle Arsenal’s creativity, we looked sharper on the ball than our more illustrious opponents.
Bullard and Murphy, who might not have survived the cut had I been picking the team, remained in central midfield and this time looked like a partnership. Jimmy did what Jimmy does, all energy, looking for the probing pass and offering a spark for our attacking players to feed off. Murphy seemed to have learnt from the Hull debacle (I’m not suggesting he was the only one responsible). He attempted to sit a little deeper and break up Arsenal’s play, showing his intent with a couple of strong early tackles.
Seol, playing just off Zamora, is another one who Fulham fans remain indifferent about. But he was the epitome of this performance. It wasn’t breathtaking, but industrious. He covered plenty of ground and there were a couple of mazy runs in the second half that supplied chances for Zamora and Simon Davies. He’s not the long-term partner for Zamora, but is more than qualified to fill in until Andy Johnson is ready on this performance.
Zamora looked good today, offering us both a target man and an outlet for balls in behind Arsenal with his pace. A clever turn led to the corner for our goal and he was close to converting a close-range chance in the second half as well. Unselfishly, given how much he would love an early goal, he showed great composure to pick out Davies when found by another Seol ball, but unfortunately the Welshman snatched at the shot. There is the prospect of further improvement from Bobby, I feel, when he gets 100% match fit.
The real basis for our victory was the defence. Hangeland (or the Hang Man as a little girl in front of him kept calling him) proved just why he was brought in back in January. He’s a defensive colossus – I lost count of the number of balls he won in the air against Adebayor, which was our big failing the last time the sides met. With his height, he can prove a danger in the opposition box, too, and his desire got his long legs to Bullard’s cleverly worked short corner before Gallas. Aaron Hughes seems to be one of those players who’s only mentioned when he makes a mistake. He didn’t get caught out of position and made a couple of crucial saving tackles as we became more nervy late in the second half.
The full backs were impressive too. Pantsil (with his jersey obviously having had that excess ‘i’ hastily removed) was all heart, whacking the ball clear when danger was lurking, and looked lively going forward. Let’s give him credit – he didn’t look too troubled by the likes of Nasri and van Persie (how poor were his free-kicks by the way?) and that’s the highest compliment you can pay. This was my first proper look at Toni Kallio and I was impressed. He doesn’t have the attacking instincts of Konchesky, but was solid. Zoltan Gera had to cover him on a few ocassions, but they seemed to have a good understanding, although I’d be worried about deploying Gera on the left throughout this season. He seemed a little lost, unable to link the play too much, and as one shot proved, his left foot isn’t his strongest. Kallio looked knackered when he came off and, a word too for the man who replaced him, Chris Baird. Made some usual clearances from left back which was just as well because you could sense the crowd ready to rubbish the slightest of mistakes.
But one wasn’t to be found. In truth, but for Adebayor rattling the post with a header, we weren’t terribly troubled. Arsenal played in front of us, had the majority of the ball, but didn’t create too many chances, as Wenger freely admitted afterwards. Credit to Hodgson for getting the tactics spot on and giving us a points tally after two games that we would have all been very happy with, even if we’d have expected the wins to have been the other way round.
Last season we won only five games at home – a record we’ll have to improve upon if we’re to steer clear of relegation this time around. This was an impressive start.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Kallio (Baird 74), Hangeland, Hughes; Bullard, Murphy (Andranik 81), Davies, Gera; Seol (Dempsey 77); Zamora. Subs (not used): Stockdale, Stoor, Nevland, Milsom.
GOAL: Hangeland 21.
ARSENAL (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Clichy, Gallas, Toure (Song 77); Eboue, Denilson, Nasri, Walcott (Bendtner 65); van Persie, Adebayor. Subs (not used): Fabianski, Ramsey, Wilshere, Djourou, Gibbs.
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).