Thursday 8 December 2016

Zamora shocks sloppy Arsenal

Fulham 2 Arsenal 1 Henry Winter

Published 03/01/2012 | 05:00

THIS was a tale of two Achilles heels: Bobby Zamora's and Arsenal's.

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The Fulham striker was so determined to play he had an injection in his painful Achilles.

And Zamora got his reward as he hit the winner, exploiting Arsenal's enduring problems in a defence that urgently requires strengthening.

This was also a story of two managers -- of Martin Jol's first victory over Arsene Wenger in nine attempts with Fulham and Spurs.

At the final whistle, as Craven Cottage celebrated their superb second-half display, Jol wore a smile that would have lit up Oxford Street.

Only thunder crossed the face of Wenger. The Arsenal manager marched off the pitch, briefly considering confronting Lee Probert, before deciding to pour his anger down the nearest microphone.

The painful truth for Wenger is that a compelling game was turning even before Johan Djourou was sent off with Arsenal leading 1-0 through Laurent Koscielny.

Theo Walcott and Gervinho had been disappointing, their final ball poor. Fulham were on the rise. Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele and Bryan Ruiz were terrific, gliding forward, passing and moving, looking to create space and chances. Dempsey was Dempsey, enterprise personified, while Dembele was again a class act, a force between the boxes, who could comfortably grace more august surrounds.

Ruiz has clearly settled in the Premier League, now more than up to pace with the English game, and now imposing his sinewy touch on the fray.

And so Fulham attacked and attacked, generating a raucous atmosphere as they pushed on towards that sea of expectant faces in the Hammersmith End.

Jol was out of his seat, urging his players forward. Djourou's rash decision-making simply reflected the pressure Arsenal were increasingly being placed under.

Deservedly

For all Wenger's splenetic chunterings, Arsenal really cannot complain about Djourou's exit. The right-back dived in on Dembele after 63 minutes, catching the midfielder and deservedly being cautioned.

Kerim Frei then arrived and began speeding at Djourou, not to get him sent off as Wenger appeared to claim, but to get past him, to create chances. Frei was running at every Arsenal defender.

With 12 minutes remaining, Djourou pulled back Zamora, who was running on to Steve Sidwell's through-ball. Again. Clear offence. A yard further and it would have been a penalty.

Fulham punished the 10 men, scoring first through an Arsenal old boy, Sidwell, and then a Spurs old boy, Zamora.

The sight of Sebastian Squillaci, a very average centre-half, ending the game at right-back for a side with trophy ambitions highlighted Arsenal's defensive woes.

At a time when Wenger is bringing back an old idol, Thierry Henry, to bolster his attacking options he might consider strengthening his defence.

Thomas Vermaelen was absent with a calf injury, joining Kieran Gibbs, Andre Santos and Bacary Sagna in the sick bay.

Even before his later travails, Djourou resembled a centre-back stepping in at full-back. At least the agile, athletic midfielder Francis Coquelin impressed at left-back.

Former Arsenal defenders could be spotted everywhere at the Cottage from Philippe Senderos in the Fulham back-line to Martin Keown in the radio commentary seats to Pat Rice perched alongside Wenger.

Arsenal fans were singing the praises of a famous alumnus, chanting "Thierry's coming home", and soon saluting a current idol. "Robin van Persie; he scores when he wants."

The Dutchman also creates, teasing a ball through to Gervinho, who was caught by Senderos as he cut inside. Penalty. Probert waved play on. Wenger had a legitimate grievance here.

Yet his team were playing well, moving the ball around sweetly for half an hour.

Arsenal soon broke through. When Aaron Ramsey lifted the ball into the box, it clipped Stephen Kelly and carried to the unmarked Laurent Koscielny. He planted his feet, steadied himself, and headed the ball past David Stockdale.

Stockdale had been let down by his defence but he showed his class, and his potential to be an England 'keeper, saving brilliantly from Ramsey and Alex Song. The Fulham goalkeeper then somehow denied Van Persie.

There was little hint of the second-half change of the tide by the riverside. Arsenal supporters were in good voice, taunting the locals about their Michael Jackson statue. "It should have been Jedward,'' they sang. Some insult.

It was soon all Fulham noise. Dembele began striding upfield. Ruiz went down, claiming a penalty when Song slid in, getting the ball. Koscielny had to demonstrate his defensive qualities, making some important interceptions.

Half-time brought the surreal sight of Wenger running across the pitch, hurrying to the dugout, moving more purposefully than some of his wide players.

Not enough of his players delivered in the second period, allowing Fulham more of the ball.

Surprisingly, the usually reliable Wojciech Szczesny flapped at a couple of balls. Senderos almost scored. So did Dempsey.

With Djourou gone, the siege intensified. When Ruiz lifted in a corner, Szczesny erred again and Senderos headed the ball back for Sidwell to poach the equaliser.

And there was more, Zamora seizing on Squillaci's poor clearance to settle the game with a magnificent strike, making light of his Achilles heel.

Arsenal need to sort theirs. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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