Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Fulham analysis and City preview...

Seen in the cold light of day, Saturday's game was, I suppose, two points dropped. If it hadn't been for Vermaelen's late goal it could have been much worse, though, and salvaging a point against a committed Fulham side – in what was the Gunners' third match in a week – felt only vaguely disappointing. Arsenal remain in sight of the top four, and although they are obviously reliant on the teams above them dropping points, it's not even Christmas yet. All is not lost.

The match was nevertheless something of a wasted opportunity, but the more troubling aspect of the ninety minutes was that none of the fringe players who were introduced were able to impact sufficiently. This emphasised the relative paucity of the squad, and the fact that we simply cannot rely on the same eleven players week in, week out. It also highlighted the huge gulf in resources between the Gunners and the teams they are chasing – such as Manchester City, where even Samir Nasri, instrumental in his last season at the Emirates, is currently only a bit-part player.

Wenger must have been tempted to rest RvP against the Cottagers. But given that we are still playing catch-up in the league, he plainly thought that he couldn't afford to. Indeed, both previous attempts to rest the Dutchman had nearly backfired, namely in the Stoke game after the Champions League tie against Marseille, and in the return against the French side at the Emirates, a mere three days after the frenetic 5-3 at Stamford Bridge.

In those matches Chamakh played at the Britannia, and Park played against Marseille. The Moroccan was largely ineffectual and was duly replaced by RvP midway through the second half, who then won the game for us. Against Marseille Wenger persevered with Park, who was unable to score. We only managed to get a point. Both games ultimately suggested that without van Persie the Gunners are, at the moment, basically toothless – while RvP is a razor-sharp incisor, our other strikers seem to have about as much bite as a pensioner without her dentures in. Most Gooners still seem bewildered by the change in Chamakh, in particular. What has happened to him since he first arrived in North London?

Against Fulham, however, even van Persie was unable to make the difference – although he had numerous chances and was admittedly unlucky not to score at least once. This can perhaps be put down to fatigue; three games inside a week is a big ask, no matter how rich your current vein of form is. Indeed, the whole team looked a bit leg-weary, and although the difference was not overtly noticeable in the first half, it told in the second. If we had been able to get an early goal that might have given us enough impetus to hold out for the three points, but Fulham fought well and soaked up considerable pressure. Thereafter they grew in confidence and evidently believed they could take at least a point, while conversely Walcott, Arteta and Ramsey in particular all seemed to be feelings the effects of the sheer volume of football they have played recently. The Cottagers of course had effectively had a week off, since their next Europa League fixture isn't until Thursday.

As such it was a little surprising that the team sheet didn't show more changes; only two initially as Arshavin replaced Gervinho and Djourou came in for Koscielny at right-back. That, however, reflects the limited options available to Wenger at present, as well as the manager's reluctance to gamble at this stage of the season, given our current situation (as the manager put it, we have come from 'a deep position', i.e. from 15th place in the table!). Our squad is still conspicuously thin, though, and at some point we are simply going to have to rely on other squad players if the starting eleven are not to simply burn out.

In such situations you look to players on the fringes, like Andrey Arshavin, who was disappointing on Saturday. It is difficult to come in and do a job but nevertheless he looks increasingly disinterested and did not impress. It's a pity that Rosicky wasn't fit; the Czech has actually played very well when he had been called upon so far this season, but again niggling little injuries have limited his ability to help out the team.

Tonight in the Carling Cup Wenger will surely rotate; this competition is of course the lowest priority at the moment but nevertheless most fans would hate to see us roll over against City – particularly if Nasri plays, which is entirely possible. A sprinkling of regulars as well as youth and fringe players will probably take to the pitch; hopefully the performance will assuage my doubts as to how far the seam of genuine quality runs through the squad. With City's chances of progression in Europe out of their own hands, they'll undoubtedly want to grab as much glory as possible in the domestic cups; fortunately Arsenal are at least guaranteed another round of Champions League action. As such Gooners can loftily talk about bigger concerns, but even so, the game isn't a foregone conclusion. With home advantage the Arsenal could still stage an upset tonight, despite a team sheet that will, on paper, be outshone by the opposition.

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