Two things spring to mind immediately after Fulham’s 4-0 reverse at Ashburton Grove yesterday afternoon:
1) It’s not often that such a savage beating is inflicted on a team managed by Roy Hodgson. Yes, Fulham have never won at Arsenal so three points was never much of a realistic proposition, and – of course – this shadow side had Wednesday on their minds, but to lose 4-0 is never good. Let’s hope it’s just a temporary abberation.
2) Injuries to John Pantsil and Clint Dempsey weren’t exactly what Roy would have wanted. The Ghana defender, who seemed to be deployed at centre back against the Gunners (reprising an experiment we last saw on the pre-season tour to Australia), seemed to pick up a leg problem and an angry Clint Dempsey was substituted shortly after he fell heavily under a challenge from Sol Campbell in the box. The change was something of a precaution but Dempsey wasn’t a happy boy.
The margin of the defeat was disappointing but the fact that Fulham finish the year in 12th place – five positions lower than this time last year – shouldn’t cloud what has been another excellent campaign. Hodgson’s achievements remain remarkable, especially when you consider that he’s not millions and millions to splash on players and that he’s fashioned a hard-to-beat side from the Premier League equivalent of the remnants pile.
Fulham, with eight changes from Wednesday’s defeat by Stoke, were engaged in the kind of rearguard battle most expected from the first whistle. It was a shame that Mark Schwarzer, having made two good saves to deny Robin van Persie and Sol Campbell, made a mistake that led to the opening goal. The Australian miscontrolled a backpass to leave Andrei Arshavin with the simplest of tasks of slotting into an unguarded net. It proved Schwarzer, who has enjoyed another excellent season, was falliable again.
A second followed shortly afterwards, albeit in slightly fortunate circumstances for Arsenal. Schwarzer’s luckless afternoon continued after he managed to turn van Persie’s close-range effort onto the crossbar only to see the rebound fall right at the Dutchman’s feet. Van Persie, whose impressive return left you wondering just what Arsenal might have achieved had he not been sidelined by injury for much of the campaign, tucked it in efficiently.
When Chris Baird sliced a third into his net with eight minutes of the first half remaining, you wondered how many Arsenal might score. Fortunately, it wasn’t to prove as embarassing as the eight Chelsea put past Wigan at Stamford Bridge. Walcott could have added a fourth before the break but shot disappointingly wide when sent clean through on goal.
Fulham weren’t without opportunities themselves but lacked the clinical finishing of their hosts. Stefano Okaka, who seems to have gained weight whilst at the Cottage, slipped just as he appeared to moving away from the Arsenal defence and this wasn’t the way Erik Nevland envisaged ending his league career with the Whites. The Norwegian sent a first-half header over the bar.
It was largely damage limitation in the second period and, despite a superb Schwarzer save from van Persie, Arsenal did find a fourth in the closing stages. Young Mexican striker Carlos Vela scored his first league goal of the season when he drove home after reaching a fine through ball from Samir Nasri.
ARSENAL (4-5-1): Fabianski; Sagna, Clichy, Campbell, Silvestre (Djorou 62); Diaby, Nasri, Walcott (Lansbury 77), Arshavin (Vela 77), Eboue; van Persie. Subs (not used): Mannone, Gibbs, Eastmond, Merida.
BOOKED: Fabianski, Eboue.
GOALS: Arshavin (21), van Persie (26), Baird (o.g. 37), Vela (84).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, Shorey, Pantsil (Kelly 58), Smalling; Dikgacoi, Greening, Riise (Elm 45), Dempsey (Stoor 67); Okaka, Nevland. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Murphy, Gera, Davies.
BOOKED: Pantsil, Dempsey.
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Chester).