The range of Fulham emotions at the end of an extraordinary afternoon at the Emirates Stadium was telling of the way game had gone. Relief that the Cottagers had got away with a point after Mikel Arteta missed his late penalty to win it for Arsenal, but also tinged with disappointment that having recovered from a 2-0 deficit to lead 3-2, a historic first victory at Arsenal in the Premier League could not be achieved.
Credit must be given to Martin Jol’s men for their fighting spirit. It would have been easy for heads to go down after goals from Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski had put the home side two up mid-way through the second half. However, thanks to some superb determination and some enterprising football, Fulham were able to leave North London with a point that was the very least their performance merited.
The man who will get the headlines, yet again for the Cottagers, and quite rightly so, is none other than Dimitar Berbatov. What a sensational piece of business by Martin Jol he has been. The Bulgarian has been impressive enough in his Fulham career to date, scoring three goals in six league appearances. However, at the Emirates he was at his imperious, graceful, magisterial best, scoring twice, once from the penalty spot, and laying on his side’s other goal for Swedish youngster Alex Kacaniklic.
At Manchester United, Berbatov was often accused of being too lazy and static in his movement on the pitch to truly flourish. Perhaps however it is Manchester United who did not truly understand Berbatov’s qualities, rather than the other way around. At Fulham and particularly under Jol, a manager who knows him so well, Berbatov is the star man and is being allowed to showcase his prodigious talent whenever and wherever he wants.
Arsenal simply could not handle the 31-year-old at times, not only due to the as-always excellence of his technique and vision both with the ball and without, but also due to his work-rate. Manchester United fans may have been surprised to see the turn of speed Berbatov showed to latch onto a through ball and cross in for Fulham’s second goal but watchers of the Cottagers this season will tell you that is no isolated example for Berbatov this season. At Craven Cottage, the Bulgarian appears to be enjoying his football once again.
Certainly, his mere presence on the pitch ensured that Fulham always looked likely to score goals. In particular, Berbatov’s understanding with Bryan Ruiz appears to grow game by game and while without the ball the two forwards may not exactly be prone to defensive fortitude, with the ball they are both capable of sheer brilliance.
Although Berbatov’s purchase was perhaps only funded by the loss of Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele, Fulham fans surely must not be able to help themselves in wondering just where this team could go had they kept the latter two in alliance to the signing of Berbatov.
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