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Arsenal 2 - Fulham 2 match report: self-inflicted

The Gunners have nobody to blame but themselves.

Arsenal FC v Fulham FC - Premier League Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Arsenal have nobody to blame but themselves for dropping points at home to Fulham. They completely dominated the visitors, creating 3.1 xG to a paltry .54 xG, but gifted the Cottagers two goals to split the points. It was not good enough from the Gunners. There is no excuse for not killing off a match up 2-1 and with Fulham on 10 men. Those are the types of games that title contenders win, and they didn’t.

Mikel Arteta got the starting lineup wrong. Leandro Trossard had absolutely earned more playing time, but those minutes should have come against Nottingham Forest and / or Crystal Palace, two teams that he expected to defend deeper. Against Fulham’s high line, Eddie Nketiah’s movement in behind would have been more effective. For what it’s worth, Trossard was abject on the day, earning a halftime subbing-off.

Trossard’s poor performance overshadowed a weak outing from Kai Havertz and another off day for Gabriel Martinelli. Martinelli looks short of confidence. He’s taking too many touches and not being decisive in and around the penalty area. You can’t pin the blame on any one attacker. The entire left side of the attack isn’t working without Oleksandr Zinchenko pulling the strings. You can’t pin the blame on any one attacker.

Can we stop with the Thomas Partey at right back experiment? Part of it might be out of necessity because Zinchenko isn’t fit enough to start, but the Ghanaian has struggled as an inverting fullback. The change also takes Partey out of the middle of the park when Arsenal aren’t in possession, nullifying one of his biggest strengths — the ability to break up the play. Furthermore, it forces Gabriel Magalhaes to the bench, which has left Arsenal looking even more vulnerable to the counter and removes the centerback’s threat on set pieces. And finally, it breaks up the Ben White-Martin Ødegaard-Bukayo Saka attacking triangle on the right side.

Ostensibly, the changes are supposed to make Arsenal as good or better in possession by getting more passers onto the field and further up the pitch. But with three games worth of evidence to evaluate, all it seems to be doing is disrupting established connections and making the play look disjointed at times. Arsenal have had excellent possession statistics with the changed lineup but aren’t creating as good of chances nor finishing the ones they do manage.

The Gunners looked substantially better with Eddie Nketiah, Fabio Vieira, and Oleksandr Zinchenko on the pitch in the second half. Vieira had his best performance in an Arsenal shirt. He looked confident and decisive on the ball, won the Arsenal penalty, and assisted on Eddie Nketiah’s goal.

We might not be talking about Arteta’s formation change if Arsenal hadn’t gifted Fulham goals. The Gunners were down 1-0 inside of a minute after Bukayo Saka hit a backpass to a space that Thomas Partey had vacated, allowing Andreas Pereira to wrong-foot Aaron Ramsdale as he was scrambling back to cover his net. The goal was the third time this calendar year Arsenal had conceded inside the opening minute of a match, giving the club the dubious honor of being the only team in Premier League history to manage that feat.

Fulham’s second goal came from a corner they shouldn’t have had, either. Arsenal had controlled possession in the midfield, Zinchenko dawdled on the ball, and gave it away. The ensuing break led to a corner, and Joao Palhinha scored. The defending on the corner was diabolical, too. There were four or five Arsenal players who stood completely still watching Palhinha run a simple curl around congestion to get himself free.

Turnovers are the double-edged sword the way Arsenal play generally and with Zinchenko (and other players) in particular. When you knock the ball around and try to keep possession in dangerous areas, a mistake can be killer. Players who are incredibly cool and confident on the ball can sometimes get caught out or forced into a mistake waiting too long. To be fair, the Gunners seem to always get harshly punished by their opponents for those mistakes. Arsenal need to eliminate the mistakes, but at some point, opposing teams are going to stop capitalizing on every single one.

The Gunners nearly lost the match in added time. Fabio Vieira was run over on the right side and grabbed the ball as he fell to the ground. The assistant referee even appeared to flag for an Arsenal free kick. Instead, Paul Tierney gave Fulham a free kick that they took quickly to isolate Adama Traore on William Saliba. The Wolves attacker got the better of the centerback and maybe could have gone to ground to win a penalty because Saliba went to ground nowhere near the ball. Instead, he fired a shot and forced a very good save from Aaron Ramsdale.

All Arsenal can do is put the poor result behind them, make sure the same mistakes don’t happen again, and prepare for Manchester United. I expect the Gunners will look much better against Manchester United because Mikel Arteta is likely to pick a lineup much closer to the one that worked so well to start last season. This Arsenal bunch always seem to get up for big matches, too. It’ll come together. Hopefully Gabriel Jesus, who made a cameo appearance today, will be ready to start.