Vermaelen 82 – Vermaelen (og) 65
Thomas Vermaelen scored twice – once at each end – as Fulham held Arsenal to a frustrating draw. The Belgian put the Cottagers in front just after the hour mark and then restored parity himself late in the second-half.
The tempo of the game was distinctly slow until Arsenal fell behind. Aaron Ramsey blessed the play with some delightful passes but it was not enough from the Gunners to unsettle Fulham, who had no need or inclination to disrupt the serenity. The action, for want of a better word, was tepid but not unwatchable, but the class rather broke down when either side reached their opponents’ 18 yard line.
Fulham did not commit enough forward with enough haste to break through, while Arsenal were crowded out of clear opportunities or wasteful of the few that did come their way. Ramsey confirmed as much when he blazed over after Theo Walcott’s first dangerous dribble of the evening.
At the other end, Moussa Dembele had a shot deflected wide for a corner that came to naught, and could not get the likes of Clint Dempsey and Bryan Ruiz involved in effective positions. Bobby Zamora was equally starved of supply, sending his only real chance on goal over the bar after turning Thomas Vermaelen.
Despite the tranquillity Dembele could have put Fulham ahead five minutes before half-time after a slick move but Wojciech Szczesny parried. A further Arsenal chance arrived for Per Mertesacker but his glanced header went wide, as the first-half came to a goalless conclusion.
The half-time interval changed little. The introductory exchanges of the second period were almost exactly the same as the final ones of the first. Walcott was something of a threat on the right wing but Fulham were solid, well-structured and largely non-committal in attack. The full-backs rarely ventured forward, Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu held their line in midfield, and the two wingers and two strikers the unit allowed to attack.
Robin van Persie, quiet by his recent standards, came the closest to opening the scoring around the hour when he worked himself into space only to be denied on the line by Chris Baird, but it was merely a prelude to Fulham taking an unexpected lead. John Arne Riise – on a rare foray forward – met Murphy’s lofted ball and Vermaelen, in his attempts to clear, put the ball into his own net.
It was punishment for Arsenal’s soporific attitude, a consequence perhaps of their midweek Champions League exploits but still not excusable, and Arsene Wenger soon took off Mertesacker and Ramsey for Abou Diaby and Gervinho in an attempt to inject some life into his side.
Fulham’s insipidity was more calculated than the Gunners’, and in that respect Martin Jol got much correct. Fulham, patient and confident, were nevertheless eventually pegged back. Marouane Chamakh was introduced to offer a different option but it was the Vermaelen who atoned for his earlier error. Meeting Walcott’s cross, the defender drew Arsenal level with a commanding header. As much as Vermaelen was directly responsible for the turnaround, the directness of Gervinho on the left wing was equally important.
Despite the belated flurry that followed Vermaelen’s double Arsenal could not again get past the resolute Fulham, and were left cursing their slow start while Fulham rued their inability to hold on an eight extra minutes, but were still more content with a draw than their hosts.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny; Djourou, Mertesacker (Diaby 69), Vermaelen, Santos; Arteta, Song, Ramsey (Gervinho 69); Walcott, van Persie, Arshavin (Chamakh 76)
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise; Ruiz (Kasami 76), Murphy, Etuhu, Dempsey; Dembele, Zamora (Johnson 78)
Did you know… Martin Jol has still failed to defeat Arsenal as a manager, drawing this match with Fulham as well as three as Spurs’ boss, losing the remaining four while with Tottenham.