Well, that was unexpected.
It was almost as if the last hour at Hull hadn’t happened. Roy Hodgson kept the same midfield and his side played football against Arsenal. A prospect that would have frightened the life out of most Fulham fanatics beforehand, but, not only did the Whites stifle Arsenal’s creativity, but looked sharper on the ball than our more illustrious opponents.
Jimmy Bullard and Danny Murphy, whose creativity was badly blunted on the opening weekend, looked like a proper partnership in an effective engine room. Bubbly Bullard did what he does, all energy, looking for the probing pass and offering a spark for our attacking players to feed off. Murphy seemed to have learnt the lessons from the debacle on Humberside: sitting somewhat deeper to disrupt Arsenal’s rhyme and offered an indication of his intent with several strong early tackles.
Seol, playing just off Bobby Zamora, is another one who Fulham fans remain indifferent about. But the Korean encapsulated this Fulham performance. His display wasn’t breathtaking, but industrious. The former Reading forward 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 every inch a top-flight forward tonight, offering Hodgson’s side both a target to hit and an outlet for balls in behind Arsenal with his pace. A clever turn led to the corner for the only 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 the former West Ham favourite, once he’s up to match sharpness.
The real basis for our victory was the defence. Brede 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 – he won countless balls 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. John Pantsil (with his shirt 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 Samri Nasri and Robin 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 occasions, 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, apart from 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 Arsene 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 the Whites only managed five home wins – something that needs improving upon if Hodgson’s men are to avoid any more heartstopping Great Escapes. 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).