Thursday 24 May 2018

Cazorla injects life into lethargic Gunners


Arsenal's Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla celebrates scoring the opening goal
Arsenal's Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla celebrates scoring the opening goal
Steve Sidwell of Fulham tussles with Serge Gnabry of Arsenal
Arsenal's German midfielder Mesut Ozil

Dion Fanning

For an hour at the Emirates yesterday, Fulham had achieved quite a bit. They had kept Arsenal out on the pitch and they had drained the Arsenal fans of their urgency.

If Arsenal hadn't started the day at the top of the league and Fulham weren't getting closer and closer to the bottom, maybe the game could have petered out into a pleasant but meaningless scoreless draw.

For most of the first half, Arsenal played like they had played for many seasons. But Arsenal's supporters couldn't get too frustrated as this team is challenging for the title. There was the occasional groan and yelp of frustration when Arsenal's bright start didn't lead to any goals.

Mesut Özil had gone close in the early minutes but the ball was only limping towards the line before Brede Hangeland cleared and the game settled down to a first half of insignificance.

Fulham had done what they intended to do but the second half had already been tougher before Santi Cazorla scored twice in five minutes and the game was transformed from a drab, lifeless match into a facile Arsenal win.

Fulham's season has been so dismal that they will search for any consolations and there were a few in the first half when Wojciech Szczesny had to tip a Steve Sidwell shot which was heading for the top corner away and they broke occasionally on the counter-attack but encountered the problem that Dimitar Berbatov couldn't pass the ball to Dimitar Berbatov.

When others became involved it was more frustrating, especially when Alexander Kacaniklic knocked the ball too far in front of him when he had been released by Berbatov and Fulham were through.

Fulham rallied again after Cazorla's second goal but they will always be a team that can play reasonably well when they are two goals down.

They'll look back on the first half as the time when they could have exploited a lethargy in the Arsenal team. Serge Gnabry was the liveliest presence but while Cazorla would make an impact in the second half, Özil faded from view.

Gnabry and Olivier Giroud had optimistic shots while Maarten Stekelenburg's fine afternoon began with a couple of saves from Bacary Sagna and a superb follow-up from close range but Giroud was offside.

Just as Arsenal fans got a bit restless, Berbatov found space down the right and his cross into the box managed to be dangerous even though there was nobody there to meet it. Sagna headed it out only as far as Sidwell who hit the ball well and Szczesny got a firm hand to knock the ball away.

Fulham had grown into the game and if Kacaniklic had remained calm when Berbatov's perfectly weighted pass released him, the afternoon might have been different.

"I was very pleased at half-time to say the least," Rene Meulensteen said later. "If we'd produced a bit more quality in the final third we might have nicked something."

Instead Arsenal emerged for the second half a different side. They had found their urgency. Gnabry drifted by a couple of Fulham defenders before Stekelenburg saved his shot and he went close again after the ball scrambled around the box with Laurent Koscielny pulling the ball wide.

Jack Wilshere then became involved. He picked the ball up in the middle and the ball was worked out to Cazorla on the left. He played it into Giroud who found Wilshere inside the box. He pulled the ball back and Giroud looked ready to receive it but Cazorla drifted in and moved in front of him and put Arsenal ahead.

His second finished the game as he picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and drove a shot low through the bodies in front of him.

Lukas Podolski came on and his shot touched by Stekelenburg onto the post, with Podolski already believing he'd scored.

Darren Bent came on and made a mess of a chance in the final minute. With seven teams separated by three points at the bottom, Meulensteen insisted that hope remained and predicted the "most exciting league for many years" although that doesn't mean Fulham will stay in it.

Wenger ended the day answering questions about signings with Juventus's Mirko Vucinic reportedly heading to London to join on loan. "Some people have visual capabilities I don't have." After he was asked if Lukas Podolski was happy on the bench, he talked about the strength of the squad and their solidarity and then concluded wryly: "You want me to buy more players and when they sit on the bench you ask me why."

Irish Independent

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