Arsenal (0) 1 Fulham (0) 1
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 18th April 2021. Kick-off time: 1.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Mat Ryan; Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Granit Xhaka; Mohamed Elneny, Dani Ceballos; Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Willian Borges da Silva, Cédric Soares, Thomas Partey, Nicolas Pépé, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah
Scorers: Eddie Nketiah (97 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 69%
Referee: Craig Pawson
Assistant Referees: Scott Ledger, Richard West
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Stuart Attwell; AVAR Constantine Hatzidakis
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
After the glorious victory over Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals of the Europa League three days ago, we are now back to our bread-and-butter matches in the Premiership, doing our normal day-to-day work and concentrating on the next game, which today just happens to be another London derby, this time against Fulham. We should forget the difference in Premiership placings, and focus in on the task in hand, which is obtaining three points; nothing less will do. Let’s go!
Within less than a minute of the start, Gabriel Martinelli almost scored when Alexandre Lacazette neatly lobbed a ball into the Fulham penalty area for him to run onto, and his subsequent flick (that went past goalkeeper Alphonse Areola) went narrowly short of the far post; this missed chance merely set the stage for our domination of the first half. A couple of minutes’ later, after even more good play by our forwards, Emile Smith-Rowe pulled the ball back for Gabriel Martinelli, and his subsequent low shot on the spin was parried away by the Fulham goalkeeper. At our end of the pitch, Mat Ryan (who replaced Bernd Leno in goal today), was brought into action when he caught a simple cross from Ivan Cavaleiro; he distributed the ball quickly and the pressure on the Fulham goal continued. Emile Smith-Rowe was unlucky not to score when his long-range shot flew over the Fulham bar after Gabriel Martinelli made a scintillating run into the visitors’ penalty area and slotted the ball across to the young Arsenal striker. Although Fulham did have their moments (including a near-miss when a wicked deflection from the inside of Rob Holding’s leg sent the ball spinning just inches from the near post, leaving Mat Ryan helpless), the lion’s share of possession was ours, and it seemed that it was a matter of time before we scored. When Mohamed Elneny brought down Ademola Lookman in the centre circle just after the half-hour mark, it was looking as if referee Craig Pawson was going to reach for a card, but thankfully he thought twice, which could have been a lucky escape. Five minutes before half-time, Dani Ceballos scored a fabulous headed goal, but unbelievably VAR decreed that Bukayo Saka’s foot was in an offside position, so the goal was cancelled out. Despite one or two good attempts on the visitors’ goal, the first half finished goalless, sadly.
Right from the restart, we were snappy and quick to the ball; in fact, Alexandre Lacazette went inches wide with a very strong shot which was passed to him after an excellent move by Dani Ceballos out on the left flank. Twice over the course of five mintues, Granit Xhaka was hurt in unfortunate tackling incidents, and after treatment, which saw him going off the pitch briefly for assistance, he returned to the fray. Nine minutes after the half-time break, Bukayo Saka broke in from the right, and as he fell awkwardly near the byline, his subsequent shot hit the outside of the post. A couple of minutes later, Craig Pawson gave a controversial penalty decision, when Gabriel just caught Mario Lemina when he made a swing for the ball inside our penalty area; despite our appeals, VAR upheld the decision, and Josh Maja scored from the spot. Immediately we came back at Fulham, and after Dani Ceballos was brought down outside the visitors’ penalty area, the resulting free-kick taken by Alexandre Lacazette bounced off the defensive wall. We played with purpose now, keen and both desperate to grab the equaliser. Hector Bellerin was unlucky not to score, when his header went inches wide; that was his last act of today, as he was replaced by Nicolas Pépé, and also Thomas Partey came on the pitch for Mohamed Elneny with twenty-two minutes of the match remaining. A couple of minutes’ later, Alexandre Lacazette went down with an injury, and was replaced by Eddie Nketiah. We applied immense pressure on the visitors’ goal, with Gabriel Martinelli going around the goalkeeper before hooking the ball across to Nicolas Pépé, whose header looked a certain goal, but Alphonse Areola got a touch and Tosin Adarabioyo cleared off the line. With Eddie Nketiah going close with a superb lob over the goalkeeper and the bar from close range (after an excellent pass by Bukayo Saka), it was starting to look like it was going to be a case of one of those days, sadly. We were pressurising Fulham with wave after wave of relentless attacks by our strikers, and it seems somehow incredible that we had not scored an equalising goal. Our frustrations started to show as the minutes ticked down towards the end of the match, and as a result, silly fouls were being committed, when in any other point of the match, that would have not been the case. With a minute to go of normal time, Gabriel Martinelli ran into the Fulham penalty area, and his strong left-footed shot was parried by Alphonse Areola, who was having the match of his life today. In the seven minutes’ injury time, we started to throw literally everything at the visitors, but luck didn’t appear to be on our side, in fact, the harder we tried, the more it started to slip away from us. Then, with seconds of the match remaining, our goalie, Mat Ryan, who came up into the Fulham penalty area as a last-ditch effort, flicked a header over to Granit Xhaka, who whacked it across the goal; Fulham goalie Alphonse Areola, completely surrounded by our players, just about got a touch but behind him was Eddie Nketiah, who did the simple task of tapping it into an empty net, and so the match finished as a draw. Thankfully.
Well, that’s it then. Back to where we were a week or so ago. And now of course, this result today merely confirms what we have expected all along, that unless we win the Europa League, it is almost certain that we won’t be playing in European competition next year. Sure, we played at a quick pace for large chunks of the match, but we petered out, giving Fulham the opportunity to make headway in the game, which they did of course, courtesy of a hotly disputed penalty. Despite all of the fine efforts by our strikers, who kept going right up until the end of the match, all we could get from a game played at home to a side that are currently languishing in the relegation area, was a draw. And Alexandre Lacazette limped off the pitch with a suspected hamstring injury. Unpredictable as ever. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Everton at the Emirates on Friday, 23rd April at 8.00pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.