Arsenal ground out a 0-1 win against Fulham at Craven Cottage through a Per Mertesacker header. Arsenal dominated the game throughout, mostly due to Steve Sidwell’s 12th minute ejection for a bad tackle on Mikel Arteta. Despite this, Arsenal struggled to create chances, and Fulham looked capable of stealing a goal at times.
Sidwell returned for The Cottagers for about 12 minutes. He had just missed 3 matches after a dismissal against QPR, and he’ll have another suspension to look forward to.
Wingers played an important role for Fulham. Emanuelson and Kacaniklic were both used as outlets for counters. Richardson and Manolev both supported the wingers
Ruiz played below Berbatov, pivoting around the striker in support. He looked to acquire the ball from wingers and transition the ball through the middle to Berbatov, who, as usual, stayed very advanced and roamed for space without much vigor.
For Arsenal, Jack Whilshere was rested, and Aaron Ramsey was given his role in midfield. He and Arteta both acted as the water carriers for Arsenal, staying the most central and distributing the ball to more advanced players. Rosicky also played in a central role, but roamed far more in the final third looking for space between Fulham’s defensive and midfield line.
Walcott and Cazorla acted as wingers. Cazorla was far from traditional, however. He drifted all the way to the right flank at times, and frequently cut inward to support Rosicky and play behind Giroud. Walcott stayed wider, but was no less inclined to press inward with pace when in possession.
This match is exemplary of the fact that possession is not nine-tenths of the law. Arsenal had 71% possession, leaving Fulham with a measly 29%.
Even Arsenal’s passing flattered to deceive. They completed a staggering 90% of their passes as a team, including 84% accuracy in the final third. In total them attempted over twice as many passes in total as Fulham (768 to 285 respectively).
The telling statistic of this match is the shot count. For all their accurate passing and possession, both sides had only 3 shots on target. Arsenal’s equalizer was not a product of clever passing, but a fortuitous set piece situation and a smart run by Mertesacker. The other 2 shots Arsenal had on target were from distance.
Within the first 5 minutes, Fulham had a strong chance down the right flank. Stanislav Manolev skipped over a challenge on the touch-line before making a straight line to the penalty area.
Even after the 12th minutes dismissal of Sidwell, Fulham continued to threaten Arsenal. Up until Arsenal’s goal, Fulham could well have been the first team to score, with several chances in the first half. The Cottagers’ ability to counter against Arsenal was impressively close to lethal at times.
Fulham on the break
Despite going a man down, and despite their opponent’s numerical superiority in every passing metric, Fulham looked dangerous on the break.
As a team, they completed 10 of their 16 attempted dribbles. This success rate (62.5%) is significantly better than Arsenal’s dribbling success rate (50%).
Revisiting team passing stats, Fulham were disproportionately successful at penalty area entering passes than Arsenal. While Arsenal did have 8 more penalty area entry passes than Fulham (18 to 10 respectively), they also had significantly more time on the ball and a higher line than Fulham.
The fact that Fulham remained to close to Arsenal in terms of dangerous passing illustrates that The Gunners were severely under performing in terms of incisive passing. Fulham, however, were dribbling well on the break and quickly getting the ball into dangerous areas. Manolev and Emanuelson both had 6 penalty area entries, 60% of Fulham’s total.
Contributing to this joy down the right flank was Nacho Monreal’s lack luster defensive performance. Monreal had 2 successful tackles, but won only 2 of his 6 ground duels for a uninspiring 33% success rate.
Despite Arsenal’s holistic control of the match, they were shockingly poor at creating scoring chances. There was precious little style on display, and a significant degree of the match was a dull affair.
Arsenal should be highly concerned with their inability to produce anything despite their number of passes in the final third, particularly when they were a man up the vast majority of the match.
Fulham, for their part, shouldn’t feel too hard about a 1 goal loss, especially considering how close they were to equalize at times. They were defensively tight, and looked capable of breaking against Arsenal, even when they were without Sidwell.
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