Bobby Zamora’s first Premier League goal in three months capped a spirited Fulham fightback as they stunned Arsenal with two goals in the last seven minutes to take all three points in the London derby at Craven Cottage tonight.
Trailing to a Laurent Koscielny header after Arsenal dominated the first half, Fulham laid siege to the visitors’ goal in a frenetic second period. The Gunners’ cause wasn’t helped by Johan Djorou’s dismissal for two yellow cards but Martin Jol’s side underscored Arsenal’s defensive frailty with two late goals. The recalled Zamora, who only played after demanding a pre-match injection in his troublesome Achilles, was a pivotal figure. His physical presence gave Fulham a punch they had been badly missing up front in recent weeks and his predatory instincts settled the contest deep into injury time when he volleyed home after Sebastien Squillaci had failed to clear a Stephen Kelly cross.
Given how Fulham have enjoyed late setbacks this season, there was some irony that Jol’s side came alive in injury time. They were certainly buoyant after former Arsenal midfielder Steve Sidwell had restored parity with a close range after Wojciech Szczesny went walkabout at a corner. The young Polish goalkeeper might have been punished earlier in the second half when a mad dash presented Philippe Senderos, excellent again at the heart of the Fulham defence, with a glorious chance to score from a free-kick. The Swiss centre back flicked his header just wide of the far post but there was no reprieve from a Bryan Ruiz corner with five minutes to play. Szczesny flapped at the flag-kick, allowing Senderos to send a header back across the six yard box and Sidwell arrived – unmarked – to score a simple header from barely two yards out.
Arsene Wenger was at pains to point out that Fulham’s late dominance was down to Djorou’s sending off. But the home side were well on top before the Swiss defender was rightly dismissed after bringing down Zamora as he bore down on goal. Kerim Frei’s introduction as a second half substitute for captain Danny Murphy gave Fulham an additional outlet down the left and Djorou was fortunate to escape punishment as he scythed down the Swiss teenager off the ball as Fulham broke forward. Arsenal also struggled to contain Moussa Dembele once the Belgian was switched to a more central role. Sidwell went close twice – heading over from a promising position and clearing the crossbar with a rising drive – while Clint Dempsey should have headed Frei’s deep cross inside the far post rather than sending it just wide.
Fulham’s fluidity and offensive football stood in sharp contrast to a forgettable first-half performance that saw Arsenal quickly take control. Jol was honest enough to admit that was ‘too easy for Arsenal in the first 25 minutes’ – a worrying development when you consider just how effortlessly Fulham were swept away by Manchester United before Christmas. Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey orchestrated Arsenal’s play almost unimpeded from central midfield and it was no surprise when they took the lead, although it was a certainly fortuitous opening goal. Gervinho, who had earlier seen a decent shout for a penalty turned down when he was tripped by Senderos, found Ramsey on the edge of the box and Welsh midfielder’s cross looped off Stephen Kelly, allowing the unattended Koscielny to head over a stranded David Stockdale and into the net.
Stockdale had been badly let down by his defence, but soon demonstrated just why Fabio Capello rates him so highly. The Fulham goalkeeper produced a terrific double save to deny Ramsey and Alex Song. Stockdale also saved from Gervinho and Theo Walcott, but the England winger was particularly wasteful in the final third, dragging a couple of shots harmlessly wide. Fulham were subdued in the first period, with only the improving Ruiz carrying anything resembling a goal threat. The Costa Rican winger dribbled past three defenders but shot wide from 10 yards.
Fortunately for Fulham they attacked with greater vigour after a half-time pep talk from Jol, who was delighted to record his first win over Wenger after years of hurt with Spurs. Frei’s arrival as a substitution signified the home side’s intent and, by stoppage time, Fulham were rampant. Jol’s side are certainly enigmatic – they have taken four points off Arsenal and drawn against Chelsea and Manchester City, but looked toothless too often. The Dutchman will be hoping this is a sign of a far more fruitful 2012. It certainly was the perfect way to begin a new year.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Kelly, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Sidwell, Murphy (Frei 69); Dempsey, Dembele, Ruiz; Zamora. Subs (not used): Etheridge, Baird, Hughes, Gecov, Duff, Sa.
GOALS: Sidwell (85), Zamora (90+2).
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Djorou, Coquelin, Mertesacker, Koscielny; Song, Arteta; Ramsey (Squillaci 81), Gervinho (Benayoun 74), Walcott (Rosicky 65); van Persie. Subs (not used): Almunia, Miquel, Arshavin, Chamakh.
SENT OFF: Djorou.
GOAL: Koscielny (21).
REFEREE: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).