In the end, it was a defeat that almost felt like a point gained at Craven Cottage as a Fulham team that had been playing with 10 men since the 12th minute went mighty close to securing a point against an Arsenal side chasing a spot in the Premier League’s top four.
The stupidity of Steve Sidwell’s decision to go in late and high on Mikel Arteta so early in the game and particularly with the former Chelsea man only just making his return from a previous three-match suspension was clear for all to see.
However, boss Martin Jol will be pleased with the way his side dug in following that early blow. Arsenal may have been far from their best but Fulham must still be credited with keeping chances down to a minimum, while were it not for a combination of poor finishing from Dimitar Berbatov and a correct offside call from the assistant referee against Stanislav Manolev, the Cottagers would have celebrating an unlikely draw.
Indeed, positives could be seen all over the park for the hosts. In a backline hit by injuries to Sascha Riether and John Arne Riise, both Manolev and Kieran Richardson performed with distinction while the central defensive duo of Philippe Senderos and Brede Hangeland found themselves easily coping with the strength of Olivier Giroud and the pace of Theo Walcott.
The midfield may have been on a hiding to nothing following Sidwell’s early dismissal but the match represented another promising and combative display from on-loan Ajax midfield Eyong Enoh, while fellow loanee Urby Emanuelson put in by far his best performance in a Fulham shirt to date.
In the wider positions, Alex Kackaniklic appears to have returned from his loan spell at Championship side Burnley an improved player. The Swede ran the Arsenal backline ragged all game and had some of his teammates been a little sharper, he could well have had a hand in a Fulham equaliser.
Those ineffective teammates appear to lie in the striking positions where Bryan Ruiz put in another anonymous display for a man of his talents while Berbatov, for all of his undoubted quality, found himself isolated and frustrated, particularly after Sidwell’s early red card.
But it remains difficult for any Fulham supporter to criticise the talismanic Bulgarian, whose form in recent weeks has been key to the Cottagers’ achievement in reaching 40 points and all but guaranteeing their place in the Premier League next season.
For all the positives, Jol will be aware that is now four games without a win for his side and with a top 10 finish looking as if it might slip away, attention will already be being turned to the next four clashes against Everton, Reading, Liverpool and Swansea.
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