Arsenal were leagues better this week than last and kept momentum from their good performance at the midweek, and defeated Fulham at Craven Cottage by a scoreline of 3-1. Lukas Podolski had a brace after Olivier Giroud opened the scoring, and a late Darren Bent goal was far from enough to bring Fulham back.
The game started in pouring rain, which continued off-and-on throughout most of the remainder of the match; the quality of play on the field showed it. It was chippy and took a few minutes for either team to find a run of sustained play, but thankfully when it happened, it was Arsenal that did it. Three corners were forced, and Arsenal were generally creating chances and playing well offensively. In the 14th minute, Aaron Ramsey tried what appeared to be a shot from range - but may as well have been a through ball, as it found Giroud's feet. He was stunned for a millisecond, but his composure returned in a flash and he popped the ball in the net. It's a goal for the Frenchman three games running to start the season, and he's looking like a threat so far.
Shortly after Arsenal had to keep composure at the other end, as Wojciech Szczesny was called into action. Adel Taraabt shot low and Szczesny got down to save, but the rebound came to Damien Duff. Duff shot, but the 'keeper was up to the task again, surely saving a Fulham equalizer.
On the half-hour mark Fulham started to come into the game a bit - they were able to test the Arsenal defense a few times more, and while each attack was turned away, it started to feel more and more like they might find the equalizer that Szczesny had denied. But in the 41st minute Arsenal responded. Santi Cazorla - who was brilliant throughout - slid in a pass to Theo Walcott on the right flank and he quickly shot. It was saved but the rebound came out about 20 yards, right to Lukas Podolski. He fired home with his left foot, and it was 2-0 to the Arsenal. In good conditions it would have been a good goal - one that's often underrated in its difficulty - but his accuracy was even more impressive in the rain. Arsenal were two goals up at halftime, and looking good.
A few more fouls and corners by Arsenal in the first half hour of the second period, but other than that there wasn't much to note until Podolski struck again. A counter started from an absolutely spectacular bit of play by Giroud, who brought down a long ball near the center of the field with a perfect first touch, then laid it back to a pursuing Walcott. Theo played it forward to Cazorla, who took it into the box and held before playing back to Podolski. The German took one touch, then blasted a shot from the left corner of the box across to the far corner of goal, and he had his second of the game and the season. It was a great day for Poldi, and it sounds like it won't be his last at Arsenal, despite rumors.
Fulham managed a bit of late consolation when substitute and Aston Villa (yes, them again) loanee Darren Bent capitalized on a poacher's chance, after Dimitar Berbatov laid a ball across the goal that Szczesny tried to palm away. He got a hand on it as he dove, but not enough to keep it away from Bent. I'm kind of tired of watching Darren Bent score against Arsenal, but on the other hand, at least this one didn't end up mattering much.
The final score was 3-1, and honestly it could have been worse for Fulham. Arsenal were good at both ends, and with contributions from Podolski and Giroud up front as well as Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey in midfield, the quality was everywhere. Santi Cazorla impressed a lot, after moving inside to allow Podolski to play on the left wing the Spaniard has inhabited for the past several months. He was great on the ball, keeping it close to his feet and using both to keep opponents from being able to take it from him. His passing ability is well-noted, but his ability to keep the ball under pressure is almost as vital.
Ramsey won a few man-of-the-match awards, and while I think ours will go to someone else, his performance was still quite good. He did have some trouble under pressure at times but handled playing deep in midfield well, and managed to provide help in the attack as well. He continues to put together a string of good performances, and it seems that with every passing game confidence in Ramsey grows. Welcome to the party, everyone, we're already out of chips. Learn2Leaf, Aidan and I already ate them all.
Next we host Fenerbahce to close out the Champions League playoff, then Tottenham Hotspur follows them to the Emirates Stadium. Hate Week begins now.