Not quite the start to 2019 that we were hoping for as the clock struck 12 on New Year’s Day, but it certainly wasn’t your typical 4-1 drubbing by any stretch of the hungover imagination. The score line often speaks for itself, but Claudio Ranieri’s Whites charged from the traps and poked and prodded Unai Emery’s Arsenal from the off.
The Gunners, evidently, were clinical, ruthless and stimulative in the final third, although they weren’t a terribly formidable force in other departments and we should have punished them. Normality seemingly resumed for the visitors, however we weren’t genuinely expecting to scalp a top six club in their own back yard before kick-off, were we?
The result didn’t dampen our spirits, though, as the travelling faithful were in fine voice and made a mockery of Arsenal’s insipid ‘Gooners’. I thought Stamford Bridge was tragic, but the Emirates is a lifeless, dismal arena that’s teaming with delusional, subdued ‘fans’. Even when they were giving it large, they were virtually whispering. What a shambolic embodiment of the modern footballing ‘superpower’. We may have clappers and the odd despondent tourist but my word, what a farce!
Ruing Missed Opportunities
How the game could have taken a different turn if we’d stuck our chances away when they arose. Arsenal were trapped in a New Year’s Day malaise in the opening 20 minutes or so and the Whites could have capitalised twice through Ryan Sessegnon. Striding onto Tom Cairney’s through ball in the 16th minute, Sess’ only had Bernd Leno to beat from an awkward angle, but the teenager’s effort skewed wide of the German’s upright.
The 18-year-old’s second chance in the 24th minute was much more clear cut, though. Andre Schurrle wedged a tempting ball into the 6-yard box with an unmarked Sess’ poised to dispatch at the back stick. Adjusting his posture, Sess’ thrashed his left leg to inflict damage but somehow, someway, the ball skimmed through his being. The following faithful glared on in disbelief as the youngster plummeted to the turf, head in hands. Just one minute later, the Gunners took the lead through Granit Xhaka.
In the 33rd minute, Joe Bryan hoisted a ball into the 18-yard box for a primed Aleksandar Mitrovic to attack. Soaring above his markers, the Serb butted goal bound although Leno was alive to the 24-year-old’s effort. In many respects. The first 45 was undoubtedly one of our most promising. There was a fluidity in our offensive phases and Emery’s defensive department initially appeared to be rattled by our enthusiasm and bravery.
Moments before Fulham grabbed what would ultimately equate to a consolation, Mitro’ anticipated Jean-Micheal Seri’s lofted ball and slipped into an imposing area unopposed. With the target at his mercy, Mitro’ sprung to greet his teammates ingenuity but his header, driven and composed, careered into Leno’s clasp in the centre of the goal frame. On another afternoon, Fulham could and arguably should have netted 4 goals of their own. We are creating chances, nevertheless, so that in itself has to be perceived as a positive.
Flaky Right Flank Returns
The right side of our set-up is still our Achilles heel. Alex Iwobi ran riot throughout proceedings and had Cyrus Christie and Denis Odoi scrambling after his illusive shadow. Arsenal orchestrated three of their four goals from that particular channel as the recognised our fragility and ineptitude. Swift and devastatingly incisive, the home side systematically waltzed through our flaky attempts to halt their cultured combinations.
With Iwobi’s guile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s imperious movement, Arsenal dissected our rearguard and rendered Christie, and the Republic of Ireland international’s second-half replacement Timothy Fosu-Mensah, utterly surplus. We gifted the Gunners far too much respect in our defensive quarters and once they’d slalomed through our shape, we brandished a dejected, defeatist demeanour. No one, not just along the right channel, bust a gut to stunt their trenchant progress.
In advanced areas, Christie was indecisively careless with the ball at his feet and spurned vital windows of opportunity to bombard the penalty area. The same could be said for Joe Bryan, but the former Bristol City fullback did offer the Whites greater endurance and productivity. Whilst retreating, Christie appeared laboured and maladroit. The 26-year-old is effective in short spurts, but he doesn’t have the engine to cope in the Premier League at a consistent rate.
Without forgetting that we were playing Arsenal, a collective that’s capable of wrenching any defence open whilst firing on all cylinders, it was still noticeably tame and subdued in wider positions. Wary of the Gunners’ firepower, we stood off their creative components and struggled to stifle their vision and potency. There were many contriving factors that contributed towards our defeat, but Arsenal’s unimpeded freedom on the right flank was certainly a substantial nail in the coffin.
AK47’s Active Apology
After enduring a barrage of scathing criticisms, Aboubakar Kamara redeemed himself to Fulham’s fan base in deal style. Just after the hour mark, the staunch Frenchman emerged from the bench to replace Andre Schurrle, who had fizzled out of the encounter after a fairly assured first-half showing. Blessed with searing pace and earth-shattering strength, Kamara instantaneously injected the Whites’ offensive regiment with brawn, fervour and intensity.
Regarded as more of an Olympic sprinter than he is a Premier League professional, AK47’s pace struck fear and doubt into Sead Kolasinac and Laurent Koscielny. The Cottagers needed to advance our of their own half briskly once play was turned over, and with Kamara on the turf instead of his flailing German counterpart, Ranieri’s fold had a devastating dimension to employ.
Hitting the byline with ease, cogently combining with his colleagues and banishing his direct opponents into oblivion, AK’s explosive tendencies, twinned with his unrivalled unpredictability, are crucially beneficial to our prosperity in the final third. The occasional wayward, disorderly touch may have plagued his game in customary fashion, but the 23-year-old hit-man ultimately presented himself appropriately at a fractious period of his career in SW6.
A goal would be the perfect tonic, and in the 69th minute, the scrutinised forward was presented with a golden chance to crash the ball into Leno’s vacant net. Sess’ swept across the 18-yard box to locate Kamara at the back post. Alone and settled, the ballistic weapon connected with the England U21 international’s timely assist to register a deserved strike for his team. 2-1. I’ve droned on and on, but Kamara has to start in place of Schurrle.
Seri’s Shining Showing
Having floundered in recent weeks, we’re finally starting to see Jean-Micheal Seri return to his inventive, industrious best in a Fulham shirt, even if he was behind the likes of Ibrahima Cisse in Ranieri’s matchday projections at the Emirates. Cisse actually battled well, albeit without being overly inspired, but the Ivorian metronome entered the fray at the Guinean’s expense and distributed possession superlatively.
Picking up from deep, Seri nominated a destination and assuredly stroked the ball across the length and breadth of the park with an air of class and dexterity. So often we expect the 27-year-old to manipulate the tempo and rely on his world-renowned calibre to reign supreme, and in a midfield zone that comprised an esteemed catalogue of revered craftsman, the former OGC Nice protagonist was well within his element as a naturally gifted playmaker.
Angling tantalising balls into impending areas for Mitro’ and company to pursue, offering himself as a productive outlet whenever his teammates were being hassled, conservatively swiping possession to its intended target without delay, Seri’s presence enabled us to maintain an alarmingly cohesive rhythm. Involved in the build up to Kamara’s goal, Seri’s adeptness, which has been suppressed for large spells of the current campaign, was gloriously highlighted once more.
Seri may not be the Premier League’s most forcible defensive despot, but he approached the Gunners with a steelier determination in his conservative duties. It wasn’t a swashbuckling showing, but knowing that he had to commit to 50/50 instances to dispossess and indeed to retain the ball, he exhibited relative solidity. Adapting to the fierceness of the English top-flight has been an arduous affair for Seri, but he’s undoubtedly on the correct path in his hunt for an elite standing on the planet’s most competitive domestic stage.
Pining After Key Absentees
Calum Chambers was unavailable for selection against his parent club, Arsenal, and Alfie Mawson is currently sidelined with a problematic knee injury that was sustained during Fulham’s 1-0 triumph over Huddersfield Town. The pair have been instrumental to Whites’ successful resurgence prior their crushing defeat in north-London, and their respective absences were felt against Emery’s resoundingly clinical collective.
In the heart of our defensive corps, Mawson’s flourished into a trusted authoritarian and his regimental attributes have transformed the Cottagers’ porous back line into a convincingly stable unit. Tim Ream, to some plausible extent, is a recognised leader in our dressing room but is grossly inexperienced at this level. In the second-half, having resisted Arsenal’s unrelenting attacks before the interval, we capitulated. We were pining for a central lying enforcer to steady the ship and synchronise our shape.
Revived as a hard-hitting anchorman under the Tinker Man’s innovation, Chambers is an essential component in our midfield and his observant expertise have shored up our previously frail spine, but you can’t realistically entrust Cisse, Cairney and Seri to apply themselves in the same vein and mould as the Arsenal loanee. A centre-half by trade, the 23-year-old’s innate defensive faculties were sorely missed.
Chambers and Mawson share an understanding having buttressed the Young Lions squad in the past, and even if it didn’t come to fruition this term for the Whites as a defensive partnership, their connection is still fundamental. Talking and communication is elemental, and with Chambers dismantling in front of Mawson, it’s presumed that the ex-Swansea City man keeps a watchful eye on his colleagues positioning, hence why we’re developing as a resolute pack whilst absorbing pressure. Chambers, thankfully, should be back for our next excursion to Burnley’s Turf Moor. Mawson, however, could be out for the foreseeable future.