Thursday 19 April 2018

Vermaelen goes through the horrors but comes up smiling to earn Arsenal a point

Somehow this managed to constitute two points dropped and a point gained all in the same 90 minutes.

Arsenal created enough chances to win more than a match, and found such obdurate opponents in Fulham they were on the verge of losing in a manner they could hardly believe. Thomas Vermaelen was particularly dumbstruck. It had been his boot that had inadvertently given Fulham a surprising lead with a hash of an own goal. The Belgian defender's determination came to his team's rescue, however; he burst upfield to equalise eight minutes from full time.

A couple of months ago, the luxury of juggling resources was the last thing on Arsene Wenger's mind, but on the back of Champions League qualification as group winners and with their league form ticking over nicely, the Frenchman was conscious of the impact of heavy legs and weary heads. He rested a couple of his most regular performers this season -- Laurent Koscielny and Gervinho -- which gave a rare nod to Andrey Arshavin, who last started a league game more than two months ago. The curse of the modern manager is the need to keep more players happy than can conceivably take part, and the Russian began as though he was itching to get involved.

He was a fraction off giving his team a fourth-minute lead when he sprang on to a return pass from Robin van Persie to slot past Mark Schwarzer, but he was ruled offside. Typically of Arshavin, he flitted in and out of the game after that.

With Van Persie beginning in subdued fashion compared to his recent magnificence, Aaron Ramsey emerged as the player capable of popping up in the right place to ask more serious questions of Fulham. Three times in the opening 25 minutes the Welshman took aim: the first, assisted by Van Persie, was wonderfully tipped over by Schwarzer; the second was ambitious and soared into the distance; the third, created by Theo Walcott's driving run and perfect cut-back, was executed with imprecision and shanked over the crossbar.

While there was no lack of desire -- emphasised by the sight of Walcott running back to put in a solid tackle on Clint Dempsey -- Arsenal were not quite at their sharpest and Fulham were able to build sufficiently to make inroads themselves as the first half wore on. Bobby Zamora left Vermaelen in his shadow with a smart turn, only to lift his shot over the bar, while Moussa Dembele's effort was deflected off Vermaelen and drifted wide.

With half-time approaching Fulham created their most fluent move. Dembele's fierce left-footed drive was heading in at the near post when Wojciech Szczesny flung himself towards it and palmed the ball away.

Arsenal constructed one more chance before the interval, Per Mertesacker glancing the ball goal-wards from a corner; the German winced as his effort squeezed narrowly wide.

Fulham were entitled to feel pleased with their efforts in restricting the damage from Arsenal, and they carried on defending stoutly after the break. Even when they endured a wobble -- when Schwarzer spilled a Walcott cross -- they rode their luck. At one point Arsenal old boy Philippe Senderos lumped a clearance into the stands to an ironic cheer from the home fans.

At another, Brede Hangeland leaned into Ramsey and a chance slipped away. It might have been by hook or crook, but it was effective.

It certainly began to feel like one of those days for Arsenal when Van Persie seized his first real glimpse of goal. Played in by Mikel Arteta, the Dutchman jinked back and unleashed a fizzing shot in between Hangeland and Senderos. Schwarzer was beaten, but Chris Baird was stationed on the line to get himself in the way of another for Van Persie's collection.

Arsenal's top scorer then claimed for a penalty as he tried to wriggle through a gang of players. But the referee Mike Dean emphatically waved his rejection.

Wouldn't you just know it. While Fulham were busy defending with as much resourcefulness as they could muster, Vermaelen got hold of a Fulham half chance, as John Arne Riise chested the ball down without really getting it under control, and swept an own-goal past the diving Szczesny.

Arsenal piled on the pressure, and Zamora was back helping out to clear off the line. Then Van Persie blasted over. But Vermaelen's moment of catharsis settled it in the end.


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