By Josh Clarke at Craven Cottage
Regardless of whether such a claim is true, Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Fulham sent out a stark reminder that there is another issue in the Gunners camp that could undermine their attempt to re-establish themselves in the Premier League top four.
The first half at Craven Cottage was played in cruise control by Arsene Wenger’s side, with plentiful opportunities to increase the lead brought about by Laurent Koscielny’s gift of a header - and Arsenal’s wastefulness in front of goal is a colossal topic for another day.
In the next 45 minutes the tables were turned and the Gunners found themselves under the cosh but seemingly capable of holding on to secure a gritty win, the like of which they have recently proved themselves adept at delivering.
However, with 15 minutes left to go Johan Djourou received his marching orders for two bookable offences and Arsenal imploded.
The previously assured Wojciech Szczesny flapped at a corner, allowing ex-Gunner Philippe Senderos to nod back across goal for Steve Sidwell to crash home before substitute Sebastien Squillaci made a pig's ear of a clearance, allowing Bobby Zamora to rifle home an emphatic winner.
Pressure tells | The extra man eventually made all the difference for Fulham
It’s almost impossible to look at the outcome of the game and not draw parallels back to the Gunners' miserable start to this season. In their first three games of 2011/12 Arsenal could not see out 90 minutes with 10 players for love nor money.
Gervinho’s red card against Newcastle ended any hopes Arsenal had of snatching a late winner in the opening game of the season. Emmanuel Frimpong’s dismissal was succeeded by two late Liverpool strikes which further compounded their early season blues. Finally, Carl Jenkinson’s early bath against Manchester United was a contributing factor to the worst ever defeat in the club’s history.Clearly Arsenal have come a long way between now and the start of the season, as their charge up the table adequately portrays. Yet Djourou’s red card and the subsequent defeat is evidence that there still exists an impetuous side to Arsenal that can destabilise their vast improvement.
Wenger’s attitude does not help. Apportioning blame to Lee Probert – Wenger claimed Arsenal were denied a stonewall penalty after Gervinho sprawled to the ground and that Djourou deserved neither of his bookings – not only betrays delusion but relinquishes responsibility from his players.
Djourou did not need to go through the back of Moussa Dembele to receive his first booking and he’s certainly amassed enough experience to know that any tug on Zamora, once he’s breached the back line, would have resulted in dismissal.
And, of course, the effects of the red card extend beyond the immediate loss of three points. The injury list at the Emirates is debilitating enough as it is, without having to factor in suspensions. Though Francis Coquelin was one of the few acceptable performers on the night, the fact remains that he is the club’s makeshift, fourth-choice left-back. Options are thin enough on the ground as it is.
With tough fixtures away at Swansea and at home to Manchester United coming up, Arsenal and Wenger need to be sure that they do not become victims of their own indiscipline.
The arrival of Thierry Henry should be a steadying influence and Wenger will surely be looking to fortify his squad with older heads over the next month
First and foremost though, the Gunners need to be careful not to slip back into a spiral of insubordination and denial. The evidence of their worst ever start to a league campaign should hopefully act as a strong enough deterrent to ensure that.