Tuesday 20 March 2018

Wenger insists Arsenal victims of a busy schedule

Arsenal 3
Fulham 3

Jonathan Liew

THE swiftness with which the mood can change at Arsenal is matched by few other clubs.

At 2-0 up, the Emirates was euphoric and the songs were rolling around the stadium. Then Fulham scored. Five minutes before half-time, they scored again. Then, with around a quarter of the match to go, Dimitar Berbatov converted a penalty to put Fulham 3-2 up.

Celebration gave way to consternation. Angst snaked through the plastic seats like a deadening chill. At Arsenal, certain triumph is only one violent lurch from impending disaster.

Afterwards, manager Arsene Wenger maintained that his side were still contenders for the title.

"Yes, why not?" he said. "It is a concern, because we looked quite solid defensively until now. Today, we looked very fragile. I put that down to the fact that, at 2-0 up, instead of becoming more aggressive, we became a bit easier. Instead of continuing to push forward, we let them play, and that was a big problem for us."

Into Arsenal's impressive continuity off the pitch has seemingly also been built a permanent anxiety, a culture of excuses that is often belied by results. This time, Wenger blamed the fixture list. "We had three difficult games this week, especially the first two," he said.

The truth is that Arsenal have not looked like genuine title challengers for a good couple of months now.

Their excellent start here was attributable more to Fulham's defensive lapses than to exceptional penetration. Olivier Giroud headed home Theo Walcott's corner before Mikel Arteta seized on John Arne Riise's skewed clearance and slid the ball over for Lukas Podolski to make it 2-0.

However, the old frailties at the back remained in place and Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz did not take long to exploit them.

Gone are the days when smaller teams came to the Emirates and celebrated a point. Fulham manager Martin Jol left wanting more.

The penalty that put Fulham ahead followed a canny slice of opportunism by Ruiz, robbing Arteta of the ball and then going down under the Spaniard's challenge.

Giroud, who is finally delivering on his potential after an uncertain start, headed Arsenal level within two minutes and then Arteta missed penalty from the last kick of the game after referee Phil Dowd harshly penalised Sascha Riether for hand-ball. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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