After a tough night’s work against Borussia Dortmund midweek, it was understandable that a lot of Arsenal’s players were running on empty. Even Robin van Persie, the man who has apparently been carrying Arsenal for the last couple of months, looked a bit tired.
Of course, people who watch and analyse Arsenal week in, week out would know that Arsenal are not a one-man team but surely this weekend went some way to proving that.
In recent weeks, Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Laurent Koscielny among others had been the stand-out performers besides van Persie, but against Fulham it was Walcott and Vermaelen that impressed the most. Walcott with his excellent wing play and Vermaelen with his resilience to come back from scoring an own goal to charge forward and grab an equaliser.
For a long time it had seemed like Arsenal just weren’t going to score. Aaron Ramsey wasted a couple of chances, two of them manufactured brilliantly by Walcott on the right wing, while Jussi Jaaskelainen seemed determined not to be beaten. Fulham’s defence were also quite stubborn, and with Arsenal struggling to breach them, it all made for a frustrated crowd.
When Vermaelen unfortunately sliced past his own goalkeeper to put Fulham into an incredibly unlikely lead, Arsenal became even more desperate and threw on Gervinho, Chamakh and Diaby in place of Mertesacker, Ramsey and the unimpressive Arshavin. The three of them made a good impact, but still Fulham held strong.
Arsenal are on the up, and it’ll take more than a stubborn defence and tired legs to stop them on their quest.
Then finally, in the 82nd minute of the match, Walcott and Vermaelen combined to bring about an equaliser. Walcott steadied himself, swung in an inviting cross and Vermaelen arrived to nod it home.
Walcott has often been criticised for his delivery, and in that moment proved that he is actually a good crosser of the ball. In the past he’s sent in some great crosses, only for the target to let him down, but Vermaelen made no mistake and buried it.
Arsenal were dominant but just couldn’t find it in themselves to find a winner. Gervinho was impressive on the left hand side but couldn’t fashion a decent enough chance, and the points were shared. Arsenal fans are used to taking the positives though, and the form of van Persie’s supporting crew will certainly be one of those.
In recent seasons Arsenal might well have crumbled having gone 1-0 down and being collectively exhausted, but this seems to be a new Arsenal. Less focussed on flair perhaps, but gritty and determined, with an excellent mentality. That is mainly down to Wenger’s late signings in the summer – everyone at the Emirates has agreed that there was a massive change in the dressing room after the signings of Arteta, Park, Santos and Mertesacker.
As for Walcott and Vermaelen, they both seem to be happy at the moment and it’s showing. Walcott even hunted Clint Dempsey down and won Arsenal the ball back on halfway. His run from his own half to set up Ramsey – who fired over – was breathtaking. He was decisive and ran at the Fulham defenders, and it was a joy to watch.
As for Vermaelen, he has been steadying Arsenal’s defence immeasurably lately. The last time Arsenal conceded more than once was against Chelsea – after which, Vermaelen came straight back into the side. Perhaps he would rather play alongside Laurent Koscielny in the heart of Arsenal’s defence though. In the times that they’ve been together in central defence, Arsenal have not conceded.
In any case, Arsenal’s improvement as a team and as individuals is there for all to see. It’s also clear that anyone labelling them as a one-man team revolving around their captain is just in denial. Arsenal are on the up, and it’ll take more than a stubborn defence and tired legs to stop them on their quest.
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