There are probably at least two ways to look at today's match between Fulham and Arsenal. One is that it was a tense affair, both sides having a plan and neither executing it particularly well, and that maybe it was a little boring. Another way to look at it is oh my stars and garters will someone put me out of my misery nothing is working blarghhghhhgh---
It was that kind of game.
Fulham always prove tough opponents for Arsenal, particularly with Martin Jol at the helm, and the slow pitch and organized defending for the Cottagers was on display today, even after they went down to ten men after Steve Sidwell tackled Mikel Arteta over the top of the ball. Andre Marriner wasted no time in reaching for the back pocket, Sidwell was gone, and Arsenal's total possession game would have a chance to really batter Fulham.
That was the theory, anyway, but for the next half hour, Arsenal's passes in the final third, although legion, were mostly not forward into dangerous areas leading to shots. Despite Arsenal's dominance of the ball, it was Fulham who had the shots on target, Dimitar Berbatov forcing a good save from Wojciech Szczesny 21 minutes in. Fulham were looking to hit Arsenal on the break, and if it weren't for Berbatov going marginally offside time and again, it may have worked.
Arsenal, meanwhile, were laboring at the other end. Olivier Giroud managed to make a good turn and shoot on 39 minutes, but his shot glanced off the outside of the far post. As halftime approached, it looked as if Arsenal were going to go in without a reward, but then their two center halves decided they were fed up. Theo Walcott's free kick on 44 minutes flew towards the far post, and Bryan Ruiz momentarily forgot that Laurent Koscielny existed. Kos headed the ball back across Mark Schwarzer towards the other post, and Per Mertesacker, who'd evaded Philippe Senderos (bonjour, Philippe!), nodded the ball into the net, simple as can be.
The second half started with Arsenal just possessing the ball for long stretches of time again, much as the first half had played out. But Fulham were working hard, pressing when they could, and breaking when they could, giving Mikel Arteta in particular a hard time when he had the ball. Stanislav Manolev forced another good save from Szczesny on the break on the 70th minute, and Arsene Wenger decided to bring on the subs. Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski entered, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott left. Fulham continued to press and win free kicks, but Berbatov hit the wall in the 78th minute, and Arsenal escaped. The match tensed right along until the 90th minute, when, as Arsenal were trying to hold on as three additional minutes were announced, Olivier Giroud pulled a Sidwell and tackled over the top of the ball. Marriner was right on the spot once again, and gave the Frenchman the straight red.
Fulham was really pushing for an equalizer as extra time ticked away. Thomas Vermaelen entered the fray for Fulham's last corner, and as it was cleared, Aaron Ramsey was set loose on the break, but he flashed his shot wide. The whistle came during the goal kick, though, so he didn't have to rue his miss, and Arsenal had secured the three points.They will miss Giroud for a while, but for now, the run continues; five points clear of Tottenham Hotspur (who have two games in hand), and temporarily back in third place. Liverpool host Chelsea tomorrow; Manchester City go to Spurs.