Arsenal failed to make more than one of their chances count in the first half, and then were utterly overrun in the second half today, Fulham finally finding the net twice against ten men in the last fraction of the match to take all three points at Craven Cottage. It was no less than they deserved based on a second half performance that saw them boss possession, chances, and territory rather spectacularly. Arsenal will now have to regroup ahead of their FA Cup third round match against Leeds in a week's time. Here's how it went down:
Wenger rotated his squad very little from the match two days previous against QPR; Frances Coquelin moved over to left back in place of the injured Thomas Vermaelen. Arsenal started off the match with good pressure in the final third, but Fulham resisted and then applied some pressure of their own, Bobby Zamora nearly finding a way through on goal in the fifth minute. Arsenal's corner on 8 minutes was volleyed wide by Gervinho, although David Stockdale had it covered. Fulham got another chance a minute later, Bryan Ruiz releasing Zamora, whose low shot was saved by Szczesny.
Arsenal were gifted a chance 13 minutes in as the Fulham midfield passed it straight back to Robin van Persie. He found Gervinho on the left, but the Ivorian's touch let him down, and as he cut inside (with a possible shout for a penalty against Philippe Senderos), Stockdale claimed. Fulham again came right back on the attack, and John Arne Riise's cross nearly found Zamora. Fulham won a free kick, and Danny Murphy found Brede Hangeland, who headed over. As Arsenal attacked again after good work from Aaron Ramsey to win the ball, he released Gervinho, who was indecisive about his pass in the area, and the chance passed Arsenal by.
Clint Dempsey nearly beat Szczesny in the air on a bouncing ball, but then, 21 minutes in, Arsenal struck. Mikel Arteta's initial shot from 25 yards was blocked by Ramsey, but they held the ball, and as Ramsey got it back, he floated a cross toward the far post. It deflected slightly, slowing up, but Laurent Koscielny (?!!!) was somehow at the far post, and outleaped his marker to nod home for the opener.
A minute later, Arsenal were on the attack again, and about four shots were saved by Stockdale, including one that rolled off the outside of the post, before Fulham were able to head out for a corner. Fulham were lucky to not be down 2-0. The Cottagers felt their way back into the match, though, and 26 minutes in, Johan Djourou awkwardly cleared for a corner which Szczesny collected.
Arsenal slowly turned up the pressure again. A free kick 30 minutes in was collected by Theo Walcott, whose low shot was saved easily. Bryan Ruiz came up the other end with a good run, and his shot was wide by about three feet from 18 yards. Arsenal slowly built up at the other end again, Coquelin's low cross finding van Persie and drawing another save from Stockdale. Fulham came back up the other end, Ruiz again bursting through onto the final ball, but superhero Alex Song was there to make a last ditch tackle, and a good one. Laurent Koscielny intercepted in the Fulham midfield two minutes later, starting another attack which ended with a tame van Persie effort.
Both sides continued to generate chances, although Arsenal were getting more shots on target, many of which were weak. Fulham chipped away at the Arsenal defense, trying any way possible to get a ball over the top, but Arsenal's center backs were on point, and able to head away. Arsenal countered again, a hard Ramsey shot saved well by Stockdale. Fulham had the last action of the half, a corner finding Senderos' head, but going well over.
Fulham started the second half with a trail of smoke behind them, controlling play on the edge of Arsenal's area. Szczesny had to be alert to a low Ruiz shot that came out of a crowd, and he had to be on hand to claim another loose ball in his area a minute later. The men in white continued to possess five minutes in, and Arsenal were on their heels. Riise in particular was overlapping like a mother, Walcott nowhere to be found, and his crosses were being directed towards the goal, if not on goal, a bit more than most Arsenal supporters would care to see continue.
The next ten minutes saw few chances come for either side. Alex Song committed a foul 30 yards out on 59 minutes, and Steve Sidewell's effort from the free kick went just over the bar. Fulham were now up in arms, and Djourou earned a yellow in the 63rd. The free kick in from Murphy was very nearly turned home by Senderos again, as Szczesny came for it but didn't even come close. Luckily for him, the header bounced wide.
Tomas Rosicky came on for Walcott shortly thereafter, the latter having had a rough night. Fulham nearly took advantage of slack Arsenal play, intercepting, Ruiz crossing dangerously for Clint Dempsey, who outjumped Per Mertesacker, guiding his header just wide. Murphy departed for Kerim Frei. 71 minutes in, Gervinho danced across the 18-yard box, but his shot was wayward. Fulham were enjoying spells of sustained pressure, but they were unable to find a shooting opportunity for the most part.
74 minutes in, Yossi Benayoun replaced Gervinho. The Fulham near-chances finally turned into a chance, the ball bouncing for Ruiz, whose low shot was saved well by Szczesny and cleared. Arsenal were having trouble maintaining any kind of possession now, 77 minutes gone past, and Fulham looking scary.
It was going to get more scary. Mertesacker lost the ball, and as it was played into Zamora, Djourou pulled him down, earning his second yellow. They would have to play the last 13 minutes plus stoppage with ten men; would it come to doom them? Kelly's free kick went off the wall and out for a corner.
Arsenal were really in trouble now. Sebastien Squillaci entered the match in place of Aaron Ramsey, which normally would cause Arsenal supporters to hide under the bed, but down to ten men, it had to happen / was even more terrifying.
Fulham would make them pay. From a corner 85 minutes in, Szczesny flapped at it, and Senderos headed it back towards goal. Three Arsenal players watched it loop by them, and Sidwell was on hand to head it home. It was terrible play from Arsenal, Szczesny's first mistake and then nobody attacking the knockdown, and it was 1-1. Fulham were really really up for it now, too, and Arsenal were looking unlikely to resist much longer. They had played totally flat for the entire second half, more or less, and even the subs hadn't done a thing. Rosicky was trying, though, 89 minutes in, controlling well until he tried to find van Persie at the back post and overhit his chip.
Three added minutes, and Riise blasted wide. So did Dembele.
When a cross came into the box again in the 93rd minute, Squillaci's header only went as far as Bobby Zamora, who blasted home from eight yards. 2-1 Fulham, which is no less than they deserved based on the second half performance. Once again, Arsenal would rue only making one of nine shots on target count in the first half; the second half was a steaming pile of bilious vomit excrement. The starting XI will get a much-deserved rest now ahead of the Leeds match in one week, which on evidence of today, they need. January might get interesting...