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Positives and negatives: Fulham 2-1 Arsenal

Written by Cameron Ramsey on 1st January 2024

Hold on, did Fulham really beat Arsenal for the first time since 2012? Yes! They did! And Cam ain’t gonna let you forget about it. Get in there!

Happy New Year, ladies and gents! Whether you’re still nursing a dirty hangover or you’re bright and dandy, 2023 was rounded off brilliantly as Fulham defeated Arsenal at Craven Cottage and as we look forward to the year ahead, we can be proud of the what Marco Silva’s boys have achieved in the Premier League, and beyond, until now.

Last year comprised a strong return to life in the top-flight. A long-awaited win against our conceited neighbours. An FA Cup quarter final riddled with controversy. We have reached our first semi-final since our fabled Europa League exploits and while there were plenty of unsavoury moments along the way, this wonderful team of ours has exceeded expectation and it has been a pleasure to follow them up and down the country, come rain or shine, win, draw or lose.

Mikel Arteta’s misfiring Gunners weren’t ready for the smoke that came their way. The Cottage was in fine voice and the lads did the business, no excuses, no bullshit, just hard graft and big dick energy. I don’t know how we’d gone from being a sorry shitshow to showstoppers in 6 days but that’s football, folks, and if we didn’t know so already, that is Fulhamish. Here’s to another unpredictably mental 365 days, people! We wouldn’t have it any other way. You Whites!

Positives

2023’s emphatic crescendo

Our winless streak against the division’s ‘big six’ is no more. Following three terrible league outings, Fulham laid claim to maximum points at the Cottage against an Arsenal side that could’ve climbed to the top of the table if they had any bottle about them. There’s something about clubs in north London and falling to pieces unceremoniously and the meltdown from Club Shop FC is going to be a treat. They had lost their previous game before their trip across the capital, a brutal onslaught was anticipated but they crossed paths with a Silva side that also wanted to set the record straight. Challenge accepted.

Despite going a goal behind in the 5th minute, Fulham shoulders didn’t drop and heads didn’t bow. We had to remain mindful of the Gunners’ potency but really, Silva’s men were far more convincing than Arteta’s and it made for an emphatic crescendo to 2023. We didn’t sit back and take punishment, this time, we upped the ante and compounded Arsenal’s dwindling hopes of clinching the title and at long last, it was our time to dish out a major upset with a collective performance that fully deserved the victory. We saved the best ’til last, the Whites took the game to the Gunners and we never looked back once Bobby Decordova-Reid poked us ahead. On the day, we wanted it so much more and nobody can argue with that.

The attitude on show from all in Fulham colours was outstanding. We always seem to drop points in agonising circumstances whenever we face teams that regularly qualify for European competitions but actually, I didn’t feel that usual foreboding sense of dread. We were in control, we counteracted Arteta’s panicked substitutions with the well-planned introductions of Andreas Pereira and Issa Diop amongst others, the game was managed superbly by Marco and there can be no complaints from Mikel, which is a miracle in itself.

He said his side were beaten fair and square, Fulham were the dominant force and when you look back at the years we’ve shared with Silva, this dub is debatably the most satisfying we’ve experienced under his command. Topping our historic victory over Chelsea will take some doing but our latest win, an emphatic one at that, will definitely live long in the memory.

Raul’s raucous return

In those three games where Raul Jimenez was suspended, Fulham were predictable moving forward, our deputy strikers just aren’t up to the Premier League grade and as soon as Raul returned to the starting XI on Sunday, our fortunes changed. The Mexican striker now has 4 goals in 4 outings, his back stick equaliser was prodded past David Raya with certainty and his all-round application in the final third thrust the Whites into the ascendency, after he restored parity.

Occupying both Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba, forced the issue with his hold-up play and as he dropped to retrieve possession, he invited his teammates to spin off and hit the channels as he effected play. The 32-year-old’s involvement was beneficial to our progression, he picked up loose balls and claimed them as our own, he climbed to win headers and flick them on and his movement distracted Arsenal’s back line.

It’s clear that we cannot rely on Carlos Vinicius or Rodrigo Muniz, but we can depend on this confident version of Raul, even if he made a meal of that rabona on the edge of the penalty area. He put himself about, he was smart in possession and in front of the target, he didn’t miss the mark. Witnessing him net against Arsenal, the club his horrific skull fracture happened against, is a moment to savour and if he’s to take anything from the past year – or six weeks – with him as we head into the next 12 months, it has to be his eye for goal.

Robinson pockets Saka

There’s a reason why Liverpool allegedly want Antonee Robinson for 40-odd million quid. We know that Robinson has a clanger in him, those from the outside that may not watch him as frequently as we do may not be aware of his sporadic mishaps but the USMNT left-back certainly has the potential to reach the very top and with Bukayo Saka to silence, the Arsenal and England’s poster boy, Jedi’s desirable traits came to life and he didn’t trip over his duties.

When Robinson shook his jeans in the morning of New Years Day, a scrunched and crumpled Saka would’ve tumbled out with a packet of Hubba-Bubba and a Monzo card. The tricky Hale End winger got no change from the Antonee, he tried to sidestep our pacy full-back but he just couldn’t overcome Robinson’s durability. Wherever Bukayo trod, Robinson had already left his footprint because he was always one yard ahead.

There was an instance at the death where Saka buffeted Robinson in the back to steal possession, underhand tactics from a guy that had lucked out, but other than scrambling in the opener, the shining star boy’s impact and relevance was dimmed, he was reduced to a peripheral existence and that was all down to Antonee’s staying power and stubborn resistance.

Palhinha’s pulsating passion

After the summer transfer window slammed shut and his projected deadline day switch to Bayern Munich fell through, Joao Palhinha promised that for as long as he’s at the club, for as long as he wears the famous black and white, he will give 100% no matter what. That bold statement of his was not a lie. Until now, Palhinha has grappled for the shirt, he has thrown himself in the firing line for the badge and against Arsenal, not for the first time this season, the Portuguese man o’ war’s passion was pulsating.

Lung-bursting recoveries, long distance surveillance and crucial crunching challenges that were accompanied by the curdling scream of a bloodthirsty Spartan, Palhinha presented Declan Rice’s severed head to the baying masses, he stripped Saka of his dignity and he did so for us, for Fulham Football Club, in his auditorium. He was at the peak of his powers, he endorsed aggression, firmness and when he had to reclaim possession, knowing the consequences if he didn’t do so safely, he held his nerve and trusted his commitment.

Right now, he is the world’s greatest holding midfielder. Nobody comes close. We are privileged, Joao could very well be playing Champions League football in Bavaria, he could still sign for Bayern in the coming weeks, although I just don’t see it happening. He is far too invested. He’ll almost certainly bid farewell in the summer but at this stage of the season, with so much to strive for in SW6, he’ll continue to give everything he’s got for the Whites because from what I saw from him on Sunday afternoon, the body language, the intensity, the pride, Palhinha is gearing up for battle on English soil on multiple fronts.

Bassey locks it down

Eddie Nketiah hadn’t a single hope of surviving. Calvin Bassey was arguably the only participant on Boxing Day that was worthy of praise, he wanted to make the difference in a team starved of movement and desire and just a few days later, more compliments came the Nigeria international’s way because while the Whites may have gone a goal down early doors, the bustling centre-back soon locked it down and shut the visitors up.

Arsenal’s attack is lively, interchangeable, and if they weave themselves into dangerous positions, they usually capitalise. Not on Bassey’s shift, mind. He’s a jet-propelled bulldozer of a defender, if the Gunners sprung our traps, CBass shunted them into submission and once he’d overturned possession, he stampeded from deep, encouraging his teammates to hijack momentum.

With the ball, Bassey was progressive and he introduced purpose and ambition into Fulham’s game plan. He is comfortable with his ability on the ball, centre-backs are required to distribute play confidently and on his natural left side, Calvin was prepared to contribute in whichever way he could. He stamped out trouble, he established himself physically and he cooperated functionally with Tosin Adarabioyo, a partnership that is going to flourish, even if it hasn’t been flawless recently. We’re going to miss Bassey when he departs for the Africa Cup of Nations later this month but I trust that whoever steps in, will step up to the challenge.

Tom’s inch-perfect input

Perfection is the presiding factor of Tom Cairney’s game and within a midfield department laden with versed playmakers and international heavyweights, our skipper’s ingenuity in key scenarios set him apart from Arsenal’s pretenders. In recent weeks since being reinstated to Silva’s starting compliment, Cairney’s input has been astonishing and the belief that he’s only useful off the bench for 20 minutes or so has been put to bed without any dinner.

Strong main character vibes gushed out of every deft touch and flick he dolled out, he’s a technical virtuoso and in a busy middle third where reactions and awareness had to be respected, TC’s judgement was immaculate and his supporting runs off the ball enabled the Whites to fashion decent scoring opportunities. He was, of course, the architect behind Raul’s leveller, the whip and placement offset the Gunners’ defensive line and that’s the exquisite standard he demands of himself whenever he features.

It was was Tom’s 4th assist of the campaign, a sublime masterstroke and if it weren’t for Raya’s fingertips, he he would’ve registered his second goal of the season midway through the second half, too, with a delicate dab from the edge of the 18. Martin Odegaard paled in comparison, Kai Havertz gulped in awe, as Cairney manipulated play and hit levels that were simply unparalleled, Arsenal’s big-money imposters were flogged, cheaply. It was Tom’s pitch, all of it, and as sky-high reputations were humbled, our skipper extraordinaire lapped up the plaudits because his performance, in the company of false riches, was invaluable. Statue: pending.

Negatives

Weird reffing, nothing else

I’m not going to town on this because I’d rather focus on all that went right for us but I have to say, some of Josh Smith’s decisions were just weird and avoidable. Bassey was booked for 6 seconds of supposed time wasting, but Gabriel can take a minute or so to lump a free-kick into nowhere? That ain’t right, and neither is Saliba’s yellow for yanking Harry Wilson to the turf, either.

For me, that’s a last-man offence, Wilson was ahead and the Frenchman should’ve been given his marching orders. I’d like to have seen how it would’ve panned out if it were Tosin pulling Gabriel Jesus to the ground but thankfully, we never found out because our defenders didn’t put themselves in distress. It’s by no means the worst refereeing I’ve seen, nowhere near it, I just thought a few of Smith’s settlements were odd and I know I’m not the only one that feels the same way. Who doesn’t love a good moan for the sake of it, eh?

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