Had Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta dispatched his 94th minute penalty kick against Fulham, Sunday morning’s newspaper headlines may have read a little differently. Alas, Mark Schwarzer saved Arteta’s tame effort and the Gunners had thrown away more Premier League points.
It had started excellently for Arsenal. Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski hit the back of the net in the first 25 minutes to put the home side in a commanding position. But defensive shortcomings were soon to rear their ugly heads.
Dimitar Berbatov scored either side of an Alex Kacaniklic goal as the Cottagers mounted what would usually be described as an unlikely comeback. But their opponents were Arsenal of the 2012-13 season, a team who have now conceded 12 goals in their last four matches.
Earlier in the campaign, assistant manager Steve Bould was being showered with praise for the methods he had used to supposedly fix the leaky Gunners defence. Indeed the early signs were positive with Arsenal conceding only three times in their first six matches in all competitions – a run which included a gutsy stalemate at bogey team Stoke City and a 2-0 win at Anfield against Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool.
However in more recent weeks, the defence has begun to unravel. The incredible five goals conceded to Reading in the League Cup fourth round is obviously the most striking example as Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou were pulled apart by the fairly tame pairing of Noel Hunt and Jason Roberts.
But the first choice partnership of Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker have been suffering too. Manchester United rarely felt it necessary to move out of second gear in a 2-1 victory. The subsequent relegation of Andre Santos from the first team has failed to improve matters – with Vermaelen at left-back and Koscielny back in first team contention, the Gunners collapsed against Schalke in the Champions League before this Fulham debacle. Clearly, Bould, who was hesitant to accept the plaudits of the press earlier in the season, and the rest of Arsene Wenger’s coaching staff still have plenty of work to do defensively.
In the end, Giroud rescued a point for the Gunners against the Cottagers. It was a fine performance from the former Montpellier striker, who seems to be improving game after game. His intelligent movement and classy qualities were never in doubt but the Frenchman is now underlining that ability with every striker’s bottom line – goals.
The turning point may well have come in the aforementioned goal fest against Reading. Giroud was introduced as a second-half substitute and, along with Theo Walcott, invigorated and energised Arsenal. Being an integral part of that comeback will have done Giroud no harm and Wenger’s side now seem to be ready to reap the rewards. If only those at the other end of the pitch were looking so assured.
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