Liverpool deepen Fulham’s gloom

This turned out to be the routine Liverpool victory that almost everybody expected, but a tight and cagey contest turned on fourteen pivotal seconds just before half-time. Slavisa Jokanovic’s rejigged defensive unit had battled bravely before the interval, spurning a couple of chances on the counter-attack, and looked to have taken the lead when Aleksandar Mitrovic powered home Tom Cairney’s cross. As the visitors celebrated what they thought was the opening goal, Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson reacted to the offside flag and sent a quick free-kick out to Trent Alexander-Arnold. The full back’s forward ball released Mohamed Salah, and with Denis Odoi attempting to play offside on the half-way line, the Egytian sauntered in to slot the ball beyond Sergio Rico. Television replays suggested assistant referee Adrian Holmes might have been wrong to rule out Mitrovic’s goal and that Alisson’s quick bit of thinking had seen him strike a moving ball. When your luck is out, it’s well and truly out.

Fulham’s formation might have been conservative, designed to try and remove some of the truly awful defensive mistakes that have characterised their calamitous start to life back in the top flight, but they did pose Liverpool a few problems in a low-key first half. Teenage winger Ryan Sessegnon will feel he should have done much better than merely shoot wide of the far post when a clever flick from Mitrovic sent him clear through the middle of the Liverpool defence, whilst Alisson was almost embarrassed when he nearly parried a Schurrle shot straight back to the Serbian striker.

In between times, Fulham were indebted to Rico for keeping them in the contest. The Spaniard produced a smothering save to keep out Salah as he sought to link up with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on the edge of the Fulham box and spread himself well to prevent the Egyptian from opening the scoring. The recalled Xherdan Shaqiri proved the most likely source of Liverpool inspiration for much of the first period, twice firing wide from promising positions, whilst also sending a steady supply of chances to Jurgen Klopp’s three forwards. Alexander-Arnold might have done better than waste good positions when he pushed forward on the right – but the turning point on the cusp of half-time put an entirely different complexion on proceedings.

Calum Chambers had enjoyed an encouraging outing as an additional holding midfielder alongside Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who still looks to be getting to grips with the demands of Premier League football. But the concession of that goal to Salah necessitated more urgency in Fulham’s play after the break, especially with Mitrovic horribly isolated up front for much of a fruitless afternoon. The visitors were penned back almost from the start of the second half and were grateful to another splendid save from Rico, who somehow turned Mane’s shot, that looked destined for the top corner, over the bar.

The relief was merely, temporary, however. Fulham seemed to have survived the danger when Alexander-Arnold’s corner was overhit but as the ball broke to Robertson in a crossing position down the left, Tom Cairney made the critical decision to leave Shaqiri unattended at the back post, and the Swiss international handsomely volleyed home his second league goal of the season from eight yards out. From the point on, the result was an inevitably – it was a surprise that Liverpool couldn’t plunder further goals as the belief drained from their opponents.

Fulham were limited, but spirited. There was far more fight soon here than in the spineless surrender at Huddersfield last Monday night. A seventh consecutive defeat could spell the end for Jokanovic, but on this performance that would be particularly harsh. The Serbian should get the international break and the opportunity to prepare his side for another crucial six-pointer at Craven Cottage against Southampton at the very least.

LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Gomez, van Dijk; Fabinho (Keita 90+2), Wijnaldum (Henderson 69), Shaqiri (Milner 82); Mane, Salah, Firminio. Subs (not used): Mignolet, Lovren, Moreno, Sturridge.

BOOKED: Gomez.

GOALS: Salah (41), Shaqiri (53).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Christie, Le Marchand, Mawson, Odoi; Chambers, Anguissa (Johansen 84); Schurrle (Vietto 78), R. Sessegnon, Cairney (Seri 63). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Ream, Fosu-Mensah, Kebano.

BOOKED: Chambers.

REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Wigan).

ATTENDANCE: 53,128

Relegation Candidates – How do we compare?

I think it’s time for me to come to terms with the fact that we are in one hell of a relegation battle this year. While the first few games of the season were encouraging, the last five or so games have been diabolical. I thought that losing 4-2 at Cardiff was going to be our rock bottom this season, but Monday night’s horrendous display away to Huddersfield was possibly the most gutless performance I have witnessed of the Slavisa Jokanovic era. It was worse than Sunderland last year and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt winded by it. I’ve said this to a lot of people, that it wasn’t the defeat but the manner of the defeat. Apart from a few bright sparks, the majority of that team can’t possibly have walked off that pitch satisfied with their performance. We need things to turn fast, something that will be very difficult given our games between now and Christmas include Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United away. Those games should be ones that we cherish, but right now I am just in fear of what the combined scoreline will be.

If you have read my work before you will know that I love a stat, and often can find something to be positive about amongst the overwhelming negatives right now, so here is a comparison of some key statistics between Fulham and some of our fellow relegation candidates. Should be fun, eh?

Goals conceded

I’ll start with the worst to get it out of the way. We top this one, and not just in the Premier League but in England. Not helped by constant defensive changes and injuries, our record at the back is the single biggest worry many Fulham fans have. The picture isn’t particularly pretty for Burnley or Cardiff either though.

Tackle Success

Remarkably we have a defensive area where Fulham aren’t the worst! We do have players who can stick the boot in and win the ball back, but my worry is that when we win the ball back we tend to give it straight back again. It’s another alarming stat for Burnley defensively, while Southampton fans also won’t find this easy reading.

Goals scored

This makes better viewing for Fulham fans. While at the back things are bad, we do have more goals in our team than most of our rivals. While we haven’t scored in three games running in the league, we do have players who should be capable of sticking the ball in the net so we have to hope that this will be enough to keep us up.

Big chances created

Goals win you games, so the more chances you create, the more you will score. We are quite a bit better than others in our precarious position for ‘big chances created’, so again we can take a bit of confidence in this.

Pass Accuracy

What’s impressive about Fulham’s high pass accuracy is that we also have about 900 attempted passes more than the next best on the list. To have an 81% pass success rate when we have attempted 5,534 is very positive and shows that if we could get our style to click then good things could come for this team. Not only do Cardiff have the lowest successful pass percentage, they have also only attempted 2,900. Not great.

What does this teach us?

While the most important stat is the amount of points accumulated at the end of the season, we can take from these stats that we have strengths in our game where others don’t. I’d like to think that as games go on, we will pick up points because of our attacking game. We need to tighten up defensively, but over time our strengths should show.

The average position (based on best to worst, so for goals conceded we are 7th, not 1st as it has in the table) for each of the teams paints another interesting picture. I’ve tried to include stats that cover all areas of the pitch so our weaknesses are covered as well as our strengths so hopefully it gives a balanced view.

A friend of mine said at the start of the season that Cardiff, Huddersfield and Burnley were his teams to go down. Maybe he’ll be right. Hopefully over time Fulham’s strengths will show and points will be gained.

#COYW

Spineless Fulham fold at Huddersfield

The pressure on Slavisa Jokanovic grew last night after a lackadaisical Fulham side slumped to the bottom of the Premier League table following an abject defeat at Huddersfield Town. The Terriers recorded their first home goal for 659 minutes as well as their first Premier League win of the campaign and fully deserved the three points for their desire and putting together the only real quality on display. Jokanovic delivered a scathing assessment of his side’s lack of fight after the final whistle and questions will be asked about his future with his side now rock bottom of the table.

David Wagner celebrated the best possible anniversary present after Huddersfield marked his third year in charge with a vital win. From the outset, the home side looked the more likely winners: more determined in the challenge, more progressive with the ball and more threatening in the final third. They set the tempo early, with a high-octane pressing game that Fulham struggled to deal with, disrupting the visitors’ time on the ball and their possession-based approach. Town almost grabbed the lead from a move that encapsulated their strong start to the contest, with the energetic Jonathan Hogg snapping in to steal the ball from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Philip Billing smashing the crossbar with a venomous strike from distance.

It became clear that a low on confidence Fulham side were fragile and there for the taking. Jean-Michael Seri barely moved out of first gear in the heart of the midfield, whilst the battling qualities of powerful midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa were entirely absent. There was even an absence of endeavour about the manner in which Fulham conceded. Anguissa afforded Alex Pritchard all the time in the world to turn on the edge of the box and fire a deflected shot that Sergio Rico did well to claw behind. Then, Chris Lowe’s corner was headed out of the penalty area by a combination of Mitrovic and Tom Cairney at the near post. The Fulham captain stayed down nursing a head injury whilst Lowe whipped a teasing ball into the far post where Christopher Schlinder and Timothy Fosu-Mensah contested the aerial challenge, with the ball looping in last off the Manchester United loanee.

It might have been worse before the break but for Rico’s alert reactions when a deft header from Hogg almost crept into the corner. Jokanovic took immediate action at half-time – sending on Cyrus Christie and Kevin McDonald for Fosu-Mensah and Luciano Vietto, but the lack of an attacking substitute to make the difference in the final third was to prove costly. Mooy lashed over as Fulham struggled to deal with a long throw from Billing before Christie at least gave Fulham some attacking intent down the right flank. The Londoners looked laboured going forward for much of the contest – typically their only shot on target, a fine finish from Schurrle, was ruled out for an offside against Mitrovic in the build up.

The Serbian sent their clearest chance – a free header at the far post from a corner – wide, but Huddersfield looked the more likely to add to their lead as time ticked by. Denis Odoi was fortunate not to concede a penalty when he handled just inside the box under pressure from Huddersfield substitute Laurent Depoitre. It was another Town substitute, Isaac Mbenza who had the chance to put the game to bed but he snatched horribly at his shot when he seemed clean through on goal and the ball flew harmlessly wide.

Fulham pushed on in the final ten minutes but only created one real opening. Cairney carved open the Huddersfield defence with a beautifully weighted through ball that sent Schurrle away down the left wing. The German zigged and zagged his way into the penalty area but placed his finish wide of Jurgen Lossl and the far post. Added time came and went with a whimper – and the sight of Ryan Sessegnon, possibly Fulham’s best performer on a forgettable evening, lying face down on the turf in the centre circle for fully five minutes after the final whistle will live long in the memory.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (3-4-1-2): Lossl; Zanka, Schlinder, Kongolo (Bacuna 90); Hadergjonaj, Lowe, Billing, Hogg; Mooy, Mounie (Depoitre 56), Pritchard (Mbenza 82). Subs (not used): Hamer, Smith, Sobhi, van la Parra.

BOOKED: Billing, Mbenza.

GOAL: Fosu-Mensah (o.g. 29).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rico; Fosu-Mensah (Christie 45), R. Sessegnon, Odoi, Le Marchand; Anguissa, Seri, Cairney; Vietto (McDonald 45; Johansen 65), Schurrle; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Ream, Chambers, Mawson.

BOOKED: Fosu-Mensah, Mitrovic.

REFEREE: Anthony Taylor (Manchester).

ATTENDANCE: 21,855.

Bournemouth Thoughts

I’ve waited a few days to try and articulate my post-Bournemouth thoughts in an attempt to come at things from a more balanced stand point. When the final whistle went on Saturday I just sat in the quickly emptying stadium for about 20 minutes trying to understand what is going wrong at the minute at the club. We looked to be in the game at 1-0 down, with Bournemouth rarely threatening, but when they scored the second it was obvious that we weren’t coming back from that. A sending off and another goal conceded later and we were left with another result that pushes our relegation credentials upwards. There’s nothing positive we can take from 28 goals conceded in 10 league games. It’s diabolical.

On Saturday the only real issue I had going into the match was Aboubakar Kamara on instead of Luciano Vietto, but I can see what Slav was going for. He wanted pace in the forward line, and in AK we have that. However, at half time we could all tell that it wasn’t working, so I can’t understand why he wasn’t withdrawn to allow for the system to be changed. It was also a shame that Cairney wasn’t brought on earlier than he was, although this may have been injury related. We looked a better team with him on the pitch and he was trying passes that either others couldn’t spot, or were too cautious to try and from that a few opportunities to get the ball into the box were created. I wholeheartedly believe that when we have Cairney back as a starter things will start to change for us.

I’ve already had a fair few non-Fulham fans asking me if Slav will be the next manager who gets sacked from a Premier League club and it’s easy to see why people from outside the club reckon his P45 is on its way with the current run of results. The football ‘hire and fire’ culture is a dangerous one, with managers often not given the time to remedy mistakes, or to build a project. While I believe that Jokanovic has made some serious errors in selection so far this season, I still don’t believe that sacking him would be productive. Yes, he needs to stop the constant chopping and changing, but I think removing him and bringing in someone new would just unsettle things even more. We also have to be aware of what a successful season should look like this year. We were never going to canter through easily, we were always going to have bumps along the way. While I think that it’s critical to address our defensive frailties, we are still strong in attack. Our target this season is survival, and I still believe that when the defence is settled that Jokanovic will be able to achieve this. If we are still shipping goals left, right and centre by New Year then that’s a different story, but sacking someone ten games into a season would be a mistake.

Stick with him for now.

#COYW

Wilson brace leaves Fulham reeling

After Callum Wilson had fired home his second of the afternoon, putting an imperious Bournemouth 3-0 up at Craven Cottage, it was left to Aleksandar Mitrovic to sum up the mood of the Fulham followers. The Serbian smashed the ball high into the air as it headed back towards the centre circle for the kick off, perhaps the sweetest a Fulham player had connected with it all day, aptly encapsulating the air of depression that has swiftly enveloped the Whites. That glorious May afternoon at Wembley seems a lot longer than six months ago.

The hero of that afternoon, Slavisa Jokanovic, is coming under increasing pressure – and not just because Shahid Khan had parted with more than £100m to make his newly-promoted charges competitive at the highest level. Jokanovic selected his tenth consecutive defence of the campaign and a third goalkeeper, although Sergio Rico was largely blameless on his Premier League debut. The defensive errors appear endemic no matter who lines up at the back for Fulham at the moment and Bournemouth’s easy-on-the eye passing style, with pace in the forward areas, was almost tailor-made to take full advantage of their hosts’ frailty.

Fulham began impishly but were fighting an uphill battle from the moment that Timothy Fosu-Mensah brainlessly bought down Wilson inside the box when there appeared little danger. The Bournemouth forward confidently dispatched the spot-kick and Eddie Howe’s side never seriously seemed like they were about to give up that advantage at any point afterwards. They seemed to have time on the ball and, in the graceful midfielder David Brooks, they had the afternoon’s outstanding performer. It was fitting that the Welsh international, who had starred for Sheffield United in the Championship last season, grabbed the crucial second goal – such was his influence on steering the contest gradually away from Fulham.

The home side struggled for fluency in possession and more than a fleeting side of the Bournemouth goal. Such was their desperation for a route back into the contest, Aboubakar Kamara flung himself to the ground under a challenge from Asmir Begovic and was rightly booked for simulation. Andre Schurrle sent their only shot on the target straight at the former Chelsea goalkeeper from just outside the box, whilst Denis Odoi perhaps should have done better with a free header at the near post when Fulham whipped up a rare head of steam.

The hosts’ did up the ante briefly in the second period, when Tom Cairney added a little more craft to their play when he was introduced from the bench, but typically Fulham the crucial second goal at a point when they were beginning to look a little more threatening. Adam Smith nipped in to steal possession from Jean-Michael Seri and the nippy Ryan Fraser carried the ball deep into Fulham territory before feeding Brooks, who slipped the ball between the legs of a stranded Rico to put the game beyond Jokanovic’s men.

The gravity of their situation only increased a minute later when the unfortunate Kevin McDonald was shown a second yellow card for hauling back Brooks, who looked set to double his tally, after he had capitalised on another mistake from Odoi. Bournemouth did make it three with four minutes to go when Wilson finished clinically after being released by a fine ball from Fraser and claimed his fifth goal in his last four matches. Jokanovic cut a diminished figure in lengthy conversation with his assistant Javier Perreira just before the final whistle – and he will need to work hard to lift his troops ahead of what already looks like a six-pointer with fellow strugglers Huddersfield.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Fosu-Mensah, Le Marchand (Cairney 60), Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Seri (Anguissa 80); Kamara, R. Sessegnon, Schurrle; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Christie, Mawson, Johansen, Vietto.

BOOKED: Kamara, McDonald, Mitrovic.

SENT OFF: McDonald.

AFC BOURNEMOUTH (3-4-3): Begovic; Francis, Ake, S. Cook; Smith, Daniels, Lerma, L. Cook (Gosling 80); Brooks (Stanislas 86), Fraser (Defoe 89), Wilson. Subs (not used): Boruc, D. Rico, Surman, Ibe.

BOOKED: S. Cook.

GOALS: Wilson (pen 14, 85), Brooks (72).

REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).

ATTENDANCE: 25,071.

Fulham v Bournemouth – Time for a change

We entertain Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth tomorrow at Craven Cottage and the Cherries pose a serious threat to Slavisa Jokanovic’s plans to turn Fulham’s faltering season around. Bournemouth now find themselves in sixth after enduring their own sticky start to the campaign and will head to the capital full of confidence. They have one of the game’s finest young managers in Eddie Howe, whose achievements since taking over at Dean Court have been nothing short of sensational. It is no surprise that he has been considered as a potential future successor to Gareth Southgate in the England job. Howe likes to set his teams up to be tough to beat, but not without sacrificing an easy-on-the eye style.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for tomorrow’s game. Fulham are in the bottom three following that lamentable display at Cardiff last weekend and badly need the points to gain some momentum. Club captain Tom Cairney has returned to training this week and is in line for a return to the starting line-up. If the Scottish international does start tomorrow, I would like to see Jean-Michael Seri and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa alongside him as I think that is our strongest midfield three and we need to get some consistency in a crucial area of the pitch.

I do expect changes after the nightmare in south Wales, especially given how poor we have been defensively. Despite signing a new contract this week, it could be time for Marcus Bettinelli to be replaced in goal. He was slow getting down to Cardiff’s crucial third goal on Saturday and in Sergio Rico, we have one of the most consistent goalkeepers in Spain and a two-time Europa League winner on the bench. Tomorrow, could be Rico’s opportunity to show what he can do in the Premier League.

We have conceded 25 goals this season – and you simply won’t stay afloat in the top flight whilst being that vulnerable at the back. Ryan O’Donovan’s analysis earlier in the week suggested that 80% of those goals were down to individual errors, which is just unsustainable. Jokanovic has had to juggle his resources due to injuries and suspensions and I think now is the time to put a back four together for the next three or four games – regardless of the outcome tomorrow. You’d expect Timothy Fosu-Mensah to come back into the defence. I’ve been very impressed with his start at right back and we’ve missed his pace at both ends of the field since that untimely shoulder injury at Everton.

I am in complete agreement with the majority that the substitutions have been questionable over the past couple of games and only Slavisa can answer why certain changes were made. I am a big Slav fan and I would hate to see him sacked so early on in the season. Our previous stay in the Premier League ended with three different managers in the space of six months and I hope we don’t get the same turnover of managers this time around. Stuart Gray’s departure has clearly affected things – and now is the time for some consistency and a bit of faith.

In his programme notes ahead of tomorrow’s game, chairman Shahid Khan has stated he firmly believes Slav is the right man for the job and expects things to change given Jokanovic’s record. It is a stance I share. Fulham’s past couple of seasons started disappointingly, but gradually the performances and results began to improve. It is based on that history that I am confident we will start winning again before long under Jokanovic. The fans frustration over the past few weeks is totally understandable, but Jokanovic has been operating without our playmaker and has been trying to integrate twelve summer signings at a level most of them haven’t experienced before.

Let’s hope our second win of the season is against Bournemouth and gets us out of the bottom three, thus bringing some optimism back to the Cottage. There’s no question that tomorrow is our biggest game of the season and it won’t be easy. When the fixtures were released, Fulham would have been targeting this as a fixture they could get three points from, although it is a measure of how low confidence is right now that I’d take a draw were it offered to me. Let’s hope that Jokanovic can get our football flowing again and have us back to winning ways.

Things are bad, but sacking Jokanovic is too risky

There is a really interesting aspect to the Media Policy in the NFL that allows the media complete access the changing rooms from about 10-12minutes (known as the ‘cooling off period) after a game has finished. Journalists and cameramen flood into a room were all players and coaches are getting changed after a game, no matter what the result or mood is in the camp. To us, from the other side of the world, it seems strange and invasive of a place that over here is nearly sacred but it’s seen as an important part of sport in America. The reason I mention it is because after the Jacksonville Jaguars defeat on Sunday against the Houston Texans, their third defeat in a row to bring them to 3-4 this season, the doors were opened to the changing room in the middle of a brawl between Jags players. The frustration at how they were playing had boiled over and a few of the players were in the process of being separated by fellow team mates. I have played a lot of sport and I know that at times changing rooms can be the place where arguments can happen and where every emotion can be laid out on the table, so I really struggle to understand how it’s allowed to be opened up to the media, but after hearing about what happened on Sunday between the Jags players, it made me wonder what we would have seen had we been given access 10 minutes after Fulham’s appalling defeat on Saturday in Wales.

Would we have witnessed players brawling and pointing fingers at each other in a blame game or a red-faced Slavisa Jokanovic yelling at his players? Or would we have been greeted to an eerie silence as the team tried to comprehend just how badly the last few games have gone for us? Last year Tim Ream and Kevin McDonald were model professionals for us, being leaders both on and off the pitch. We also had Tom Cairney stamping his authority on the squad as one of the league’s best players. Contrast that to this season where we have had any combination of eleven players on the pitch all running about like strangers and the vast majority of goals conceded have been results of our own silly mistakes. It’s hard to see where the leaders are on the pitch, and that’s very worrying.

Our manager clearly doesn’t know who his best eleven are and the constant shopping and changing, particularly in defence, is causing bedlam when we take to the field. We have also gotten ourselves into a habit of letting the heads drop pretty much straight after we concede a goal. The pressure is heating up for Slavisa Jokanovic, and while reports that he has two league games to save his job are nonsense, he will need to find a way to get the team playing a heck of a lot better to fend off the flames. I don’t believe that he should be sacked at this moment in time as I think that will just make matters worse, but I’m not blind to the problems we have at the minute.

Swansea, West Brom and Stoke all changed managers last season and the risk didn’t pay off. The year we went down we had not one, not two, but three different managers throughout the season which was a complete disaster. We can’t point directly at Slav considering so many of the goals conceded have been individual errors, but we can question his squad selection. However, I do honestly believe that when players like Cairney and Fosu-Mensah are back and fit we will have a team with much more stability.

We can also take heart from the fact that Jokanovic has been a slow-starter with us throughout the two previous season but has found the ‘solution’, as he likes to say, each time resulting in a very strong finises. Yes, our fortunes in this respect will run out eventually but I think he deserves another chance to turn it around. Loyalty often pays off in football, and I believe that it will, once again, this time around.

Keep the faith.

#COYW

Cardiff send Fulham into drop zone

Cardiff ramped up the pressure on Slavisa Jokanovic by recording their first league win of the season and sending Fulham into the relegation zone after an end-to-end contest at the Cardiff City Stadium.

The Whites failed to build on going in front thanks to a long-range thunderbolt by Andre Schürrle and were left to rue familiar failings as more wretched defending allowed Neil Warnock’s men to leapfrog them and climb out of the drop zone. A new-look back four, which Jokanovic admitted included ‘four centre halves’ and was designed to introduce more solidity at the back, crumbled under the weight of the task in front of them and, at times, it looked as if Cardiff, who had only scored two league goals all season, could score at will.

It looked as if the trip to Wales might bring some relief for Jokanovic, whose side were thumped 5-1 by Arsenal last weekend. The visitors went in front through a sensational strike from Schürrle , who may have been given far too much time to advance in a central position 35 yards from goal, but nobody would have expected him to curl a goal of the season contender past former Fulham keeper Neil Etheridge and into the top corner. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, but it proved a false dawn as the Bluebirds hit back twice in the space of five first half moments.

Calum Chambers, who endured a nightmare 45 minutes at right back, was caught horribly out of position going for an expansive one-two with Schürrle in the centre circle and Josh Murphy had the freedom of the city to race onto a searching through ball from centre back Sol Bamba. The former Norwich winger ran at Denis Odoi and finished clinically into the bottom corner with Marcus Bettinelli having little chance as the strike took a deflection off the covering Belgian defender. Five minutes later, it was 2-1 and again it proved a calamity of Fulham’s own making.

The Londoners’ looked to have dealt with the danger from a Cardiff free-kick which Gunarsson blasted into the wall but Schürrle attempted to take an extra touch rather than clear his lines and was robbed of possession outside his own area. Aron Gunnarsson’s tackle ricocheted past Tim Ream, who was slow to react, and Bobby Reid pounced to slide a finish under the advancing Tim Ream. It might have been worse for Fulham had Chambers been dismissed for pulling back his tormenter Murphy when he seemed set to race through on goal. The on-loan Arsenal man was shown a yellow card instead, before being substituted at half-time.

The Whites did at least go in level courtesy of Ryan Sessegnon’s first top-flight goal. The teenager, who has now scored five times in five appearances against City, produced an excellent finish to a flowing move to level the contest after Aleksandar Mitrovic – horribly isolated for most of the afternoon – beautifully flicked a through ball from Chambers into the winger’s path. Fulham might have been fortunate to have restored parity by the break, but the second half was a much more even and cagey affair until Jokanovic made the decision to replace Jean-Michael Seri with Floyd Ayite, unbalancing a midfield that was dominating possession until that point.

Both sides had chances to win it, but Fulham’s defence caved in with 25 minutes to go. Cardiff worked an opening down the right with the excellent Gunnarsson and Bruno Ecuele Manga involved before makeshift centre forward Calum Paterson beat both Ream and Mawson to the ball, turned and shot into the far corner, with Bettinelli seemingly going down in slow motion. Mawson had a header from a corner brilliantly palmed away by Etheridge but Fulham’s soft underbelly was underlined when Ream slipped on the halfway line allowing Victor Camarasa to surge into the area and cross for substitute Kadeem Harris, who made sure of the points with a low finish. No wonder Jokanovic admitted Fulham have ‘so many defensive problems to fix’ afterwards.

CARDIFF CITY (4-4-2): Etheridge; Ecula Manga, Bennett, Bamba, Morrison; Gunarsson (Richards 77), Arter (Damour 86), Camarasa, J. Murphy (K. Harris 82); Paterson, Reid. Subs (not used): Smithies, Cunningham, Hoilett, Zohore.

BOOKED: Gunnarsson, Morrison, Bamba, Richards.

GOALS: J. Murphy (15), Reid (20), Paterson (65), Harris (87).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Chambers (Mawson 45), Odoi, Ream, Le Marchand; McDonald, Seri (Ayite 58), Johansen (Vietto 82); Schürrle , R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Christie, Anguissa, Kamara.

BOOKED: Chambers, McDonald, Johansen.

GOALS: Schürrle (11), R. Sessegnon (34).

REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicester).

ATTENDANCE: 29,681.

Five-star Arsenal rip Fulham to shreds

By the end, it was a massacre. Arsenal accelerated to their ninth straight league win and there seemed to be an ocean between the Gunners at Fulham by the time that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rolled in a fifth at the Putney End seconds into stoppage time. The sight of Ryan Sessegnon, disconsolately on his knees after the final whistle in the centre circle, showed just how much this defeat hurt.

It was yet another reminder of how defensive vulnerabilities can be brutally exposed in the top flight. Fulham had began feistily, with plenty of spirit and tempo, penning Unai Emery’s side deep in their own half during an opening twenty minutes that saw Slavisa Jokanovic’s side dominate possession and create a couple of clear chances. They even had the momentum going in at half-time following Andre Schurrle’s sumptuous finish to a flowing move and were arguably in the game until Jokanovic opted to replace Tim Ream with Aboubakar Kamara. Had the French forward directed a header on goal with his first touch instead of it drifting harmlessly wide, who knows what the outcome might have been?

Instead, Arsenal’s formidable football, explosive pace in the forward areas and the sort of supreme confidence that comes with winning nine league games in a row took hold. Alexandre Lacazette had underlined his devastating ability in front of goal with two wondrous finishes before a sweeping move that began in the Arsenal right back position after Schurrle’s untimely slip ended a promising Fulham attack, led to an impudent flick from Aaron Ramsey completing a contender for goal of the season. The game might have been effectively out of Fulham’s reach from that moment on, but Jokanovic would not have been enamoured with the way his charges wilted after that. The Whites appeared to have run horribly out of gas in the final twenty minutes, with Aubameyang slotting home clinically from close range before adding that late fifth. Fulham have a reputation for being welcoming hosts, but this was unforgivable generosity.

Jokanovic’s solution to a horribly shaky defence was to deploy three centre backs and give Sessegnon and Christie the license to roam forward from wing-back. The teenage Sessegnon did it effectively, arguably bettering Hector Bellerin in the first 45 minutes, but Christie’s limitations at this level were horribly exposed during a chastening afternoon. With Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s return from a serious shoulder injury probably more than a month away, right back appears to become another problem position. Most of the problems came down the Arsenal left in the first half and, with Denis Odoi frequently dragged out of position to cover, it was inevitable that the Gunners would eventually fashion a goalscoring chance. Maxime Le Marchand had already produced two last-ditch interventions before Lacazette took the first opening that came his way clinically, spinning inside the box and firing a low shot beyond Marcus Bettinelli, to make light of Fuham’s encouraging start, which saw Bernt Leno produce an excellent save from Luciano Vietto’s deflected shot and Aleksandar Mitrovic have a strike blocked behind.

As it turned out, Fulham’s equaliser just before the break only delayed a deflating second half collapse, but at the time it felt significant. Vietto gleefully seized on a poor Arsenal pass, galloped into space just outside the box and measured a lovely ball through for Schurrle. There was a still a lot for the German to do, but he brilliantly lifted a clever finish over Leto and the home side were level. It was the least they deserved for the spirit and resolve demonstrated in shaking off going behind once again, but Jokanovic will be alarmed at how devastatingly his side fell from that high-octane start for the second week running. The Whites had no answer to Everton stepping up a gear at Goodison Park last Saturday – and you never really felt they were likely to mount a comeback once Lacazette lashed home from distance after Danny Welbeck had flicked on a hopeful long ball from the impressive Lucas Torreira.

Ramsey’s first touch was an artful back flick from close range that left Marcus Bettinelli with no chance and capped a mesmerising length of the field move that hinted at the sort of football Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles put together in their sleep. You can feel the belief drain away from Fulham’s shell-shocked players – and Jokanovic now has a real job on his hands. The Serbian head coach, no closer to knowing his best eleven and with injuries sidelining key performers, has to lift his team ahead of their return to domestic action following the international break, which includes three possibly pivotal fixtures against Cardiff City, Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town. Aside from fashioning a functioning back line, the Fulham boss needs to add more bite to the midfield, especially ahead of that trip to south Wales. The confidence of last May already looks a thing of the past.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Ream (Kamara 54), Le Marchand; Christie, R, Sessegnon, Zambo Anguissa (McDonald 62), Seri; Vietto (Johansen 83), Schürrle, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Mawson, S. Sessegnon.

BOOKED: Vietto, Schürrle.

GOAL: Schürrle (44).

ARSENAL (4-4-2): Leno; Bellerín, Monreal, Mustafi, Holding; Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Xhaka, Iwobi (Ramsey 67); Welbeck (Aubameyang 62), Lacazette (Guendouzi 80). Subs (not used): Martínez, Sokratis, Lichtsteiner, Kolasinac.

GOALS: Lacazette (29, 49); Ramsey (67); Aubameyang (79, 90+1).

REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 25,401

Out Gunned but Still Standing

 

It’s not long after the final whistle brought the misery to an end at Craven Cottage. It’s never nice losing at home, especially when another second half collapse saw us go from being in the game at 1-1, to being simply humiliated. It’s very easy to succumb to all out negativity after that sort of defeat and I’m not going to shy away from the bad parts of today, and our season so far, but I’ll also not ignore the positives.

Negatives

  1. Relying on Christie is asking for problems – He tries really hard, but Cyrus Christie is just so out of his depth. He is so focused on attack (and often doesn’t even get that right), that he leaves massive gaps behind him which welcomes opportunities for the opposition. Le Marchand bailed him out a few takes at 0-0 with some last-ditch tackles when Christie hadn’t even slightly gotten back to defend. I worry about playing him going forward, but maybe Fosu-Mensah will be back after the international break.
  1. One half team – There have been so many games this season were we have looked awful one half, but really good the other and today was a prime example of that. We did really well in the first half, but collapsed in the second. It was the same against Everton, while it was the first half were we barely showed up against Watford only for us to save it in the second. No team anywhere in the world will be able to get away with only showing up for one half of football. We have to be able to stay in games or else teams will just pick us off like Arsenal did today and like Everton did last week. I don’t know if it is a fitness thing or what, but whatever it is, it needs addressed.
  1. Slavisa’s subs – Today the decision to bring Kamara on was mind boggling. Ream I honestly think would have come off anyway as we need to ease him in after a back injury but to bring him off for Kamara was strange. I get that we then changed formation, but surely Floyd Ayite is a better option? I can’t criticise too much as I think Slav’s substitutions this year have been good (think Odoi at Watford as a prime example) but today there isn’t really any justification.
  1. Questions over Bettinelli – I have always been a firm defender of Marcus Bettinelli, but I can’t do that today. While some of the goals he couldn’t have done much about, a few certainly should have been handled better. It’s also getting to the stage that I’m questioning his organisation of the players in front of him as we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. He has to take some responsibility for that. However, the responsibility can’t land at his feet and his feet only. It must be a nightmare trying to organise different players every week, and when your right wing back is nowhere to be seen, the gaps were like the splitting of the Nile at times. Hopefully his time with England this week will give him some confidence going into the games after the international break.

Positives

  1. Sessegnon is adjusting – One of the things I was most excited about this season was seeing what Sessegnon was able to do in the Premier League. The expectation on the youngster’s shoulders was carried very well last season, but he started this season quietly. However, I’ve been very impressed with him recently, and I think today was his best performance all season. That might sound daft considering the scoreline, but he coped very well, for the most part, in the attacking threat Arsenal had on the left. He won a number of foot races with the dangerous Hector Bellerin, and his decision making on when to go forward, go inside or stay back was right nearly every time. I’m not sure if Slavisa Jokanovic will go for a back three again, but if he does I think we can be quite optimistic about Sessegnon playing at LWB.
  2. We are still giving teams something to think about – There is no doubt that we were in the game at half time and at times during the first half we were playing the better football. It was the same at Wembley against Spurs when after we scored our goal we looked more likely to be the team taking the lead, but for Trippier to score a trademark free kick. And against Palace I thought we were very unfortunate to come away with nothing. While the rate of conceding is alarming, it wouldn’t be fair today that teams are better than us man to man. With defensive improvement we could push up the league.2. So many players are due back from injury – We have played a different back line in every game this season, and that is simply not OK, but we haven’t been helped by injuries to the defence particularly. I don’t believe for a second that Ream’s withdrawal at 2-1 down today was tactical, as he needs to be eased back in after a back injury. While I think the decision to bring Kamara on was flawed, I think Ream would have been coming off anyway. Alfie Mawson has a lot of potential, but also clearly isn’t ready. He really should be our main CB, but it won’t happen until he is fit. Then last week we lost both Joe Bryan and Timothy Fosu-Mensah and there is just nothing we can do about that other than nurse them back to health ASAP. While some of the chopping and changing has been a choice, a great deal of it has been injury induced. We also badly need Tom Cairney to get fit. It is so evident that when he is missing we lack a leader in midfield who has a bit of discipline about him.
  3. While our rate of conceding is bad, we have played Spurs, City, Everton and Arsenal this season – Conceding 21 goals in eight games is never going to be OK, but I don’t believe that it requires a meltdown considering who we have played. Teams are going to concede goals to Spurs and City away, while Arsenal are lethal going forward. Yes, I’d rather we kept it down, but we have to be realistic and remember that an injury ridden defence is going to be delicious prey for attackers like Kane, Moura, Sterling, Silva, Lacazette and Aubameyang. We may have helped them along the way, but it takes something special for a full 90 minutes to keep them out.

So while today wasn’t pretty, there are still reasons for us to be positive. The three games after the international break are crucial, and maybe after them we will have a better idea of how this team is adjusting to life in the Premier League.

#COYW