Following a harsh decision but also a baffling challenge by Steve Sidwell in the 12th minute, Fulham were immediately handcuffed for most of the match, and doomed to failure off the bat against a top-4 side in Arsenal. Instead of laying down and dying, the lads put in a fantastic effort, and deserved much more than a 1-0 loss.
However, when put in a disadvantageous position such as this, a team ABSOLUTELY MUST take advantage of the few chances they are given, and Fulham failed to do that today, applying the dark mark to the match. Dimitar Berbatov was a sulk-machine up front while wasting the few chances he had, and it rubbished a wonderful wing performance by both men on the touchline.
The red card decision was a bit harsh in my opinion. It’s definitely a yellow, but for Sidwell to be sent off that early for a challenge that didn’t come up high and hardly caused any damage is a bit questionable. That being said, for Sidders to give the referee the opportunity to make that call by going in two-footed, spikes-up late is utterly stupid, and having just come off his suspension for the previous red, lasting 12 minutes is condemnable. Martin Jol agreed:
“I can’t defend him because it would probably sound ridiculous. It was the first foul and it spoilt the game a bit. Sometimes you hope the referee will book you because it wasn’t intentional, but if you are consistent it is a red card.”
The disadvantage showed early and often, and was evident in the stat book following the match. Arsenal attempted 768 passes compared to Fulham’s 285. Arsenal grabbed over 71% of the possession. Of the 27 highest passing combinations in the match, Fulham had one of those.
Urby Emanuelson – After putting in multiple poor performances with the club, a lack of midfielders/wingers forced him into the squad, and he gave back a fantastic effort. Someone once told me they thought Emanuelson fit much much better in Serie A than in the Premier League because he’ll get the space to use his pace and runs much more effectively. He isn’t a precise passer, and his strength lies in speed, dribbling, and creating openings on the ball rather than cutting edge passing or runs off the ball. Today, thanks to Sidder’s red, it gave him an opportunity to show off his skills, and he thrived on the counter with the space to produce on-ball chances. I don’t think he’ll ever make it big in the Premier League for this reason, and I don’t think he’ll get a chance in a match this season to put in another performance like this, but it’s nice to see him succeed, and the effort he gave was second to none. Every time he lost the ball he threw himself into it to get the ball back.
Alex Kacaniklic – Given a start so soon after being recalled from Burnley, he used the same opportunity Emanuelson had with space to create chances, although Kacaniklic is a different player in the sense that he’s less about pace and more about finding seams and making big passes into the box. The two of them used different strengths and different styles to be incredibly effective on the outside of the pitch, and Arsenal were scratching their heads to figure out what to do about it. I’d love to see him get more opportunities, because his style applies to the Premier League much more than Urby’s, and he’s definitely a big part of the future of Fulham. With Dejagah out for the remainder of the season, Alex may find himself with plenty of minutes down the stretch.
Eyong Enoh – Put in a really tough position with his central midfield partner sent off so soon, Enoh took control of the middle of the pitch and performed admirably on his own. With Fulham playing mostly on the break, there wasn’t much bossing to do, but he still did plenty of his part. He was 30/34 passing, received all 19 of the passes sent to him, made 2 of 3 tackles in the attacking third, and best of all stepped in front of 6 passes. Enoh’s physical presence was felt but he didn’t overdo it, committing 4 fouls but avoiding the referee’s book. Someone on Twitter aptly compared him to Mahamadou Diarra (thankfully much younger). With an entirely new midfield not out of the question for next season, Martin Jol would do well to heavily consider exercising Enoh’s buy clause on the loan.
Honorable mention: Stanislav Manolev – Manolev filled in for the injured Riether well. He played almost exactly the same role, and it was hard to notice a difference. Manolev was busy, receiving 44 of Fulham’s 219 completed passes in the match (20%). He was involved in 79 of Fulham’s passes (36%) (44 received, 35 passed). He sent 7 crosses into the box, completing 3 of them. He was fantastic on the defensive end as well, succeeding on both his tackles and intercepting 5 passes, and blocked a cross as well. It was like Riether never left the squad.
Dimitar Berbatov – Making a scene when a teammate doesn’t complete a pass you want or makes a run you disagree with is fine, when you back it up with results when they do give you the ball. Instead, Berbatov whined and complained about his lack of touches, but did nothing with the chances he was given. He drove directly at Fabianski from the right side of the box in the 20th minute when Kacaniklic found him in space. That would be his best chance of the match, and it wouldn’t get any easier. He was passed to 5 times in the box, and only found the ball once out of those 5. He completed just 3 of his 7 forward passe, all in the attacking third. He won just 2 of his 7 ariel duels. It wasn’t a good day for the Bulgarian.
Bryan Ruiz – For the second straight match, Ruiz was obviously below par, although it was nowhere near to as bad as the Chelsea match. He showed a little more strength and a little better possession, but it was hard to go anywhere but up from his performance Wednesday. His passing was good (32/37), but only 18 of those 32 completed passes went forward. For an attacker slotted just behind the striker on a team playing on the break, that’s a poor number. His time to break out and show his worth was today with the space left by the red card, and while Urby and Kaca took advantage, Ruiz did not.
The corner game – Corners represented some of the best opportunities for Fulham today, often given after promising breaks that were defended at the last moment. In a match where the club needed to take advantage of all their opportunities, Fulham failed miserably from all set pieces, but the corners were particularly bad. Many were too short, and overall failed to produce any danger for Arsenal. In fact, only one corner found a Fulham player, and it was a corner played short by Bryan Ruiz. All 6 corners sent into the box produced nothing.
Funny note – I called Per Mertesacker scoring in my preview post, saying he’d be a good risk at 10/1 odds to score, and 55/1 odds for first goalscorer. Good on you if you selected the latter, that’s a wonderful payout. Hopefully someone took heed of my tip! I also hit on the fewer than 2.5 goals tip, but that was a significantly lower payout.
Man of the Match – Have to give it to Urby for his wonderful effort.
The squad gave it a vailant go overall. Down to 10 men, it’s a mountain to climb for such a long time. Great to see the effort, and with results not overly important right now, that’s the most important thing. However, it still is quite disappointing not to come away with any points. Thankfully all the bottom 3 teams lost again this week, so safety is even more assured at this point. Headed to Merseyside, I can’t be very optimistic given our prior results there, but there are still a few opportunities to pick up points in the final 4 matches. Here’s to the best finish possible, and a major overhaul in the summer, Martin!