As Louis Saha, in the day’s early kick-off, put away what can only be described as a half-chance to sink Portsmouth, Fulham fans were hoping their ex-striker would show the current options just how to finish in the day’s late match. As it happened, Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson were not only feeding on scraps, but gilt-edged chances presented on golden platters. The pair did not need the kind of striking prowess their predecessor displayed at Fratton Park to bury the chances they had. It was not for lack of trying they came across a possible future star, Arsenal’s third choice keeper, in fact. If Saturday’s game were replayed exactly the same 99 more times, Fulham would win every one of them. Vito Mannone has been hailed as ‘the difference between the sides’ but, in fairness that does not do Fulham justice. The differences, apart from the goalkeeper were the Whites’ crisp passing, determination in the tackle and threatening balls into the box from wide. To carve open a side of Arsenal’s quality so often is testament to the home side, 8 shots on target without a single goal is a worrying statistic – whether or not Superman was between the posts.
Would more clinical strikers have put away the chances that presented themselves to Johnson and Zamora? Certainly one or two would have gone in. Unfortunately, one or two goals for Fulham would have been the difference between none, one or three points. Ultimately, it was zero points, and no goals. None of the clear-cut chances (Johnson’s two headers, Zamora’s header and his scuffed effort) were directed into the corners. Van Persie’s chance was, and that decided the outcome. The predicament is this: Johnson and Zamora chase and battle for everything yet how did they do on Saturday? Both were less than effective in the box. The alternatives, Diomansy Kamara and Erik Nevland, know where the goal is without looking, but without the same level of hustling and bringing the midfield into play the chances might well not have been created. It is an unenviable situation for Roy Hodgson to be in
This was the first time all season Fulham played well over both halves, and the first game where multiple players deserve credit. Clint Dempsey returned to his usual self, perhaps more so in the first half, and worried Arsenal by cutting in or heading down the line. The back four were largely faultless, with the only real mistake – Konchesky giving the ball away for the goal – being harshly punished by the Gunners. Zoltan Gera was creative, strong and very unlucky not to open the scoring. He played the majority of the game, but only because of an injury to Duff and has certainly given Hodgson a selection headache if Duff recovers quickly. This is the Gera who was West Brom’s star player and on another day he would have been Man of the Match.
Of course, that accolade will go to a certain Mannone, but on the whole the men in white out-performed those in red. The fault for defeat, for once, cannot lie with the players on the pitch, who did enough to win two games. If there is one thing to be learned from this unfortunate defeat, it is that this level of performance must be consistent against so-called weaker sides. Fulham will no doubt find a fine run of form if they can manage this.Whoever said Arsenal couldn’t win ugly was hugely mistaken, as their performance was well suited to their hero Mannone’s face. As for Fulham, it is unlikely Hodgson will see his side play better than that without adding to their points tally. The most important thing to take to next week’s trip to Upton Park is the style of their performance. If the Whites turn up and play like they did against Wolves, then it will be yet another reverse against West Ham. Before that, of course, is the first home Europa League fixture, and if Hodgson reverts to his second XI, then his first-choice players had better use the rest wisely and continue to perform or as we have seen with Gera face being replaced by hungry reserves.
Fulham Club Focus
Long season ahead – July 29
Confirmed: Zamora’s foot does fit in his mouth – August 5
Fulham needs Brede to survive – August 12
How do Fulham push on? – August 18
Roy Hodgson raids the Post Office queue – August 21
Lethargic Cottagers slump to derby defeat – August 25
Makeshift Cottagers shuffle into Europa League – August 28
No ammunition from midfield as Cottagers continue to fire blanks – September 1
Window shut firmly for Fulham – September 4
Hodgson must adapt to rid closet of skeletons – September 8
Forget August, the season starts now – September 11
Normal service resumed? – September 15
Second string given chance to shine – September 18
No-one fearful of Fulham, so time for Plan B – September 22
Rotatation, rotation and more rotation – September 25 Ten points for effort, but no points where it matters – September 29