"Crisis? What Crisis?" Is what must be going through Arsene Wenger's mind as his side registered another victory this weekend after having beaten Fenerbahce in the Champions League play-off's away leg. Wenger was criticized by Arsenal fans last week as his side stumbled to a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.
However, Arsenal improved their performance by dominating the opposition from the start despite missing the likes of Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen through injuries and Laurent Koscielny via suspension, Wenger decided to start Bacary Sagna alongside Per Mertesacker at the back.
The first chance befell Theo Walcott who saw his shot saved by David Stockdale but the Gunners like last week scored early thanks to Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman comfortably slotted the ball past Stockdale after Aaron Ramsey's deflected shot fell kindly for the striker. Giroud, who after a tough last season, seems to be settling in well by scoring his second of the campaign.
Fulham's best spell in the game came right after Arsenal's goal as Adel Taarabt came close to equalizing but a Wojciech Szczesny double save made sure the visitors maintained their lead. Walcott, Ramsey and Santi Cazorla combined well throughout as they threatened the Fulham defense on numerous occasions. It was through one such move which saw Santi Cazorla link-up well with Walcott whose shot was parried away by Stockdale only as far as Podolski who calmly placed the ball home from the edge of the area.
Arsenal threatened regularly and should have put the game beyond doubt right at the end of the first half but Podolski's chose a difficult return ball to Walcott which didn't come off when he really should have shot for goal given his position in the penalty box and the space he had.
Fulham started the second half strongly with Taarabt, the London's side most impressive player on the field, as he came close only to be denied by Szczesny. Fulham's impressive frontline on paper never really struck a chord among themselves. Martin Jol decided to change things by introducing Darren Bent and Alex Kacanikilic for Damien Duff and Taarabt midway through the second half.
The Cottagers though were finding it hard to match Arsenal's quick movement and Walcott was again the catalyst as he combined well with Cazorla who in turn fed Podolski to put the game beyond Fulham's reach. The German international has found it hard to settle into Wenger's plans but put in a good performance on this occasion.
|Podolski and Giroud guided Arsenal to a well deserved win|
The worrying bit for Arsenal is that they left themselves wide open on numerous occasions and perhaps a better side would have punished them for it. Fulham never managed to steal the ball off their opponents when they looked vulnerable and when the break was on, they didn't have the quality to execute effective counter-attacks.
The hosts did get one back though thanks to Darren Bent's debut strike but the Cottagers had left it late as Arsenal registered their second win of the week and their first three points of the season.
"We played the way we wanted, we controlled the game, we created lots of chances. You never know how a team can react after a game that intense [Fenerbahce] but maybe the positive result helped the mental side." said a happy Arsene Wenger who will feel some of the pressure lifted off his shoulders.
There were a number of positives for the Gunners to take from this game especially the performance of Ramsey, Cazorla and Podolski. Ramsey who filled in the Mikel Arteta role put in a good shift. The Welshman playing as the anchorman in the midfield completed the most passes, had the most touches and pass attempts as well. Up against a very experienced central midfield of Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell, Ramsey did well to hold his own.
Santi Cazorla who was booed by the Gunners last week due to his error that gave away the goal against Aston Villa was outstanding in a more central role. The Spaniard featuring in his more preferred number 10 role was allowed freedom to operate with Ramsey doing most of the dirty work. The Spaniard along with Walcott were quick in counter attacks and it was their direct movement which often troubled Fulham's defense.
Podolski made his presence felt as he was drafted into the starting lineup in place of Jack Wilshere. The left winger supported Giroud on numerous occasions by moving into the center. It was his movement from the flanks to a more central role coupled with good finishing that earned him a couple of goals.
Nonetheless the win couldn't hide the problems Arsenal face. Due to injuries and suspensions, Wenger was forced to move Sagna into a centre-back role. The Gunners would thank their stars for Fulham not making the most of the opportunities that came their way. Arsenal's bench comprised of youngsters like Yaya Sanogo, Gnabry and Zelalem filling in the 18 man squad.
The Gunners next test is against their North London rivals, Tottenham who at this point on paper have a far superior squad. Arsenal know they have to add re-inforcements as soon as possible to compete with the other sides vying for those Champions League spots.
Though Koscielny will return for the game against Spurs, they do miss the services of a defensive midfielder who could stop their back-line from bring exposed so effortlessly as was seen against Villa.
Despite a good performance against Fulham, competing against the likes of Moussa Dembele and Paulinho won't be an easy job for Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla and to make things worse, Arsenal's options on the bench look very limited as well with 16 year old Zelalem the other central midfield option.
The club will hope to complete the signing of Yohan Cabaye who was left out of Newcastle's squad for the second game in a row. The Gunners have also been linked to Real Madrid duo Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema, both of whom will add quality and some much needed depth to this Arsenal side who won't have it quite so easy when facing the better sides.
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