It’s always difficult to put things into perspective immediately after a crushing home defeat, even if it is to a very good side on the up who will undoubtedly challenge for the Top Four this season. Cameron Ramsey attempts to take some talking points out of our 1-5 loss to Arsenal.
Unai Emery anticipated a ‘big challenge’ in the days leading up to Arsenal’s clash with Fulham, however it was inexplicably far from what he’d initially expected. Both camps wanted to exhibit an expansive, pragmatic brand, and though the Whites had relatively comfortable spells in possession, the Gunners were simply biding their time to ruthlessly expose the frailties in our makeshift defensive contingent.
The Spanish tactician has transformed the north-Londoners into a finely-tuned machine that thrives on weakness and indecision. It’s written boldly on the walls, but the Whites’ weekly selection conundrum isn’t aiding progression, it’s adversely affecting core communication and familiarity, which is integral in the Premier League if you’re to rub shoulders with the residential big boys and remain unscathed.
We’ll begin on a fairly positive note. Fulham, in relation to the current campaign, usually tend to amble out of the traps on matchday, but the opening phases of the encounter were bewilderingly bright from the Whites, who certainly mirrored the Gunners jab for jab whilst observing a studied, wary approach.
Luciano Vietto dirtied the latex on one of Bernd Leno’s gloves with a deflected drive from the edge of the 18-yard box. Hector Bellerin wastefully presented the intricate Argentine with a prime opportunity to test Leno, and as the ball skewed away from the wrong-footed German stopper following the ricochet, the former Bayer Leverkusen No.1 swiftly readjusted his posture to superbly thwart the effort.
The Cottagers were bludgeoned by Alexandre Lacazette just before the half-hour mark following an incisive pass from Nacho Monreal. With his back facing the Hammersmith End, the Frenchman buffeted Tim Ream to forge himself a margin to pivot in the 6-yard box and lashed past a rooted Marcus Bettinelli.
Though Arsenal’s opener would have presumably knocked a severe chunk of stuffing from the Whites, Slav’s men weren’t prepared to submit without a substantial blow of their own. With half-time looming, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa intercepted Monreal’s wayward clearance to unleash Vietto, who neatly threaded Andre Schurrle into a jeopardising position.
Faced with an onrushing Leno, the esteemed forward duped his fellow countryman with a delicate dink into an unmanned goalmouth. Equilibrium restored and Fulham brandished a gleaming set of sharpened teeth.
Sluggish Second-Half Start…Again
After what was a strong first 45 from Fulham, Arsenal had to stamp their authority upon proceedings once again to muzzle the home side and, in emphatic fashion, they did through the man of the moment, Lacazette, in the 49th minute.
Lacazette is a rejuvenated animal under Emery’s command and the imposing hit-man ferociously laced through a sprawling Bettinelli from 25-yards, moments after the England ‘keeper adroitly palmed Bellerin’s rasping projectile wide of danger. Or so it seemed.
Everton breached our rearguard shortly after the interval at Goodison Park and Fulham never recovered. The Gunners’ instinctive offensive nature was going to shove the Whites to the wire, but if the defence could have resisted for another 10 minutes or so, the narrative of the tie could have been easier on the eye from a Fulham fan’s perspective, of course.
Switching on and staying alert. That’s all Slav’ has to incessantly drum into the squad at half-time, but that’s also relevant to the skipper. Tom Cairney was absent, but whoever’s got the privilege of donning the armband has to rally his troops like a hardened drill master the second they leave the confines of the dressing room.
Why Discard Ream?
At 2-1, the game was actually a compelling affair and Fulham appeared as though they were beginning to prod and probe Arsenal. At the back, barring the north-Londoners’ goals, Fulham refortified and regained an influential foothold in the middle of the park, but then, out of nowhere, Tim Ream was bewilderingly hauled off for Aboubakar Kamara in the 54th minute.
At what was undoubtedly a critical period of the confrontation, the ship needed steadying. Now, the American centre-half wasn’t necessarily playing at his underlying best, but why would you opt to discard the club’s most experienced, reliable stalwart at such a crucial stage, for an attacker that’s been overlooked recently?
The game was delicately poised and Fulham had to respond with brawn and intensity, hence AK47, however the alarm bells were already ringing. The visitors were rampant, calculative and fluid on the break, and if Fulham were to ask questions in the final third, we had to be sure that we had personnel in the defensive quarters that were stubborn enough to withstand the likes of Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang if we were dispossessed. Brutal truth is, we didn’t.
Without Ream supporting up the spine, especially whilst operating as a back three, it’s evident that we lacked patience and discipline and were subsequently mauled by Arsenal’s frightening firepower. As soon as Ream trudged off the turf, leadership and stability closely followed in his dejected shadow.
Without pinning too much emphasis on this statement, because he didn’t have a horrendous outing by any stretch of the imagination, Anguissa failed to hassle and disrupt his adversaries in a typically brutish manner, which was recognisably out of character for the Cameroonian enforcer.
Arriving with a hefty price tag, the 22-year-old’s performances were always going to be placed under the microscope to some extent. We’ve grown fondly accustom to watching him shield his department to a regimental standard, although a tentative, somewhat overawed Anguissa couldn’t halt Arsenal’s industrious ingenuity in the engine room.
Organised and dogged, the Gunners’ midfield regiment isolated Anguissa and impeded his effect on the game. Jean-Michael Seri and Anguissa will develop a formidable partnership in time, but the Ivorian playmaker couldn’t exercise his telepathic dexterity as frequently due to the former Olympique de Marseille prospect’s abnormal reluctance to buttress and absorb.
Replaced by Kevin McDonald just after the hour, the tie profoundly altered and Fulham subsequently proceeded to leak three more goals. Anguissa, though, is capable of holding an unyielding stranglehold and, essentially, his performance is only being advertised amongst others because he’s fundamentally a much, much stronger anchor than what was on show Sunday lunchtime, despite his role in Fulham’s equaliser.
We Must Adapt
Eye-catching in possession, our blueprint is built on the notion of grinding down the opposition and hitting them with a slick, sharp counter. It worked against Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers last term in the Championship, but this is the top-flight, and if we’re going to cause an upset and rattle a few cages, we must adapt appropriately and be mindful of our immediate opponent.
Ideally, playing Slav’s way is efficient and sustainable, although against Arsenal our fragility and naivety was mercilessly highlighted. The Gunners safeguarded the ball and dispatched it with steely intent, and as the Whites habitually committed both wing-backs on the break to aid Schurrle and Vietto in particular, cavernous holes emerged in our shape. Cyrus Christie and Ryan Sessegnon were rendered ineffective whilst tracking back and Emery’s fold systematically violated the vacant areas.
Knowing exactly how cutthroat Arsenal are with the goal in their sights, a more conserved, considered approach would have certainly plugged or indeed condensed those treacherous gaps that Aubameyang and co. explored so freely in the build up to their condemning killer blows.
Against counterparts that are suitably accomplished in dictating the game, perhaps we genuinely have to buckle up, tighten the bearings and ride out the storm, as to date we’ve been savagely punished by teams who have taken the initiative in our enthusiasm to venture further up the pitch without considering our vulnerability in doing so.