24.08.13 Fulham v Arsenal
A debut goal from Darren Bent proved to be little consolation for Fulham on Saturday afternoon as Arsenal left Craven Cottage with a 3-1 win. The damage had already been done by the time the England international reacted first after Dimitar Berbatov’s shot had been saved, with an Olivier Giroud effort and Lukas Podolski’s brace putting the Gunners firmly in the ascendency. The scoreline was somewhat harsh on the Whites, who dominated for long spells of the match, but it was ultimately Arsenal’s clinical finishing that earned the North London side the points. There were several positives for Manager Martin Jol to take though, with new arrivals Adel Taarabt, Scott Parker and Bent all bringing something different to the team. Jol made three changes to the side that defeated Sunderland a week ago, as David Stockdale and John Arne Riise replaced the injured Maarten Stekelenburg and Kieran Richardson, while Parker was handed a debut at the expense of Derek Boateng. The rain was torrential as both sides struggled to get the ball under control on the zippy surface, with Podolski seeing the game’s first shot deflect wide for a corner with five minutes gone. Moments later, good work by Pajtim Kasami saw him win the ball back on the edge of his own area before beating an incoming Arsenal man to the follow up to play in Berbatov. The Bulgarian switched play to Taarabt who was chopped down 30 yards from goal by Carl Jenkinson, but Riise’s subsequent free-kick was never troubling Wojciech Szczesny. A neat through ball by Tomas Rosicky found an unmarked Theo Walcott in the area on 10 minutes, but Stockdale was out quickly to turn the England international’s effort behind for another corner. Out of nothing the visitors took the lead on 14 minutes when Aaron Ramsey’s speculative effort fell fortuitously to Giroud who collected well before clipping a neat effort beyond Stockdale. The Whites responded well though and came agonisingly close to equalising two minutes later only for Szczesny to make a great double save, firstly to deny Taarabt, before blocking Damien Duff’s follow up. Good hold-up play by Giroud on 20 minutes allowed him to play Santi Cazorla in on the edge of the area, but the Spaniard’s effort was straight at Stockdale who saved comfortably. Taarabt was causing the Arsenal defence all manner of issues with his trickery and he won a free-kick in a dangerous position on 25 minutes, but Kasami’s set-piece deflected harmlessly into Szczesny’s arms. Fulham were by far the better side but were just lacking in the final third, as was evident again in the 28th minute when Duff did well to rob his man 30 yards from goal, but his pass to Berbatov had too much pace on it for the striker to get it under control. Loanee Taarabt was clearly eager to impress and he tried his luck once again on 29 minutes, fizzing a left footed drive wide of Szczesny’s far post. A beautiful team move on the half hour mark presented Parker with his first chance in a Fulham shirt as he bent Berbatov’s first time lay off over the bar with his weaker left foot. Almost everything was going through Taarabt and the Morocco international had a go on his right foot this time, bending an effort into Szczesny’s arms on 32 minutes. After Fulham went close once again to an equaliser on 38 minutes when Riise flashed an effort across goal, the Gunners almost doubled their lead instantly on the counter when they had a plethora of men forward. It was eventually Kieran Gibbs who got a shot away, but his effort sailed some way wide. Cruelly on the hosts, Arsenal doubled their lead four minutes before half-time through Podolski. It was particularly harsh on Stockdale who had made a fine save to keep out Walcott’s initial strike, but Podolski was there to thump home the rebound from just inside the box. As one minute of added time was announced, the Gunners had a clear opportunity to add a third to their tally, but Podolski’s angled cross-cum-shot was neither goalbound or likely to find a teammate. The rain had ceased somewhat as the second half began with Kasami showing great strength and skill to beat Cazorla and set up a Fulham break. He played the ball to Berbatov who fed Taarabt, with the playmaker turning well to beat his man before forcing a smart stop from Szczesny. Parker showed that he has attacking qualities as well as defensive in the 51st minute when he rode three Arsenal challenges to make his way into the area, only to see Bacary Sagna make a late sliding tackle to deny him a sight of goal. A slick counter attack from Arsenal three minutes later saw the ball worked to Walcott down the right, but Riise did well to match him for pace before getting in a vital sliding block. A great cross by Gibbs was then met by Walcott who headed back into the path of Ramsey, who saw his powerful shot deflected away for a corner. Fulham fans got their first glimpse of new loan signing Bent just before the hour mark when he was introduced in place of Duff, with Jol making his second change shortly after when the impressive Taarabt was replaced by Alexander Kacaniklic. The best chance of the second period came on 66 minutes when Parker slid Sascha Riether in down the right. The full-back played a sharp pass back to the edge of thee area, but Berbatov seemed to put Kasami off as the Swiss youth international snatched at his shot to send it wide. And Arsenal showed their clinical edge for the third time two minutes later. Following Fulham’s attack, the Gunners broke swiftly after Giroud did brilliantly to pluck a high ball out of the air before finding Walcott. He fed Cazorla who in turn played it back to Podolski, with the German lashing the ball into the far corner, leaving Stockdale with no chance. Arsene Wenger then made his first changes of the afternoon, as England midfielder Jack Wilshere replaced Rosicky, before left-back Nacho Monreal took the place of goalscorer Giroud. Parker was booked for a late challenge on Cazorla with 72 minutes played, with Giorgos Karagounis coming on for Steve Sidwell a few minutes later. Fulham were handed a lifeline with 13 minutes remaining courtesy of a debut goal for Bent. Riether dinked a sublime ball into Berbatov inside the area and when Szczesny could only parry his shot, Bent was on hand to tap into an empty net. The Whites pushed for a way back into the match but it was Arsenal who came closest to grabbing another goal when Walcott smashed one goalwards with Stockdale getting in the way well to keep the score respectable.