One of those epic nights by the Thames, an early fluke from the opposition setting up game-long persuit of justice.
That justice came with a late 1-2 from Sidwell and, thrillingly, Zamora, both goals coming after right-back Djourou had been belatedly dismissed. This red card changed the dynamic: we were looking at an unfortunate defeat until then.
Arsenal’s started well and showed some nice composure, but clearly lacked Manchester United’s extra gear. They’re further off challenging than I’d expected them to be, and their goal came when a cross deflected onto Koscielny’s head. It could have gone anywhere but we found ourselves a goal down.
Then came the game’s key moment: Arsenal sensed a second but were denied by some expert work from David Stockdale, a double save miraculously keeping the ball out via the post. Had that gone in we’d have been in all kinds of trouble, but Stockdale’s reflexes and positioning were excellent and we lived on.
The half ended with Fulham pushing on but not really progressing. In the stands we felt that Arsenal were there to be beaten, but also that our play would have to improve to make this happen.
And improve we did. Dempsey, increasingly agitated with the world (he remonstrated with Murphy and Zamora at half-time, Frei later on, and doubtlessly several others out of sight), drove on relentlessly; Dembele showed that he’s more than capable of dominating the top teams, too; Zamora – back in the team! – gave our attack a focal point we’d clearly missed in recent times. I have my doubts about the Murphy-Sidwell partnership – good players, of course, but they seem somehow not to play together – and really it was Murphy’s removal for Kerim Frei that gave us the extra impetus we needed. Frei didn’t have a lot of luck with his running, but the very fact that he was prepared to have a go, and that Arsenal knew he’d do this, was enough to open up opportunities. It became hard for Arsenal to know who to defend, Dempsey, Ruiz and Dembele were floating all over the place, but in a good way, Riise (having another fine game, incidentally) and Kelly pushed up on the flanks, and all of a sudden we seemed to be absolutely storming the match.
He scores when he wants, he scores when he waaaants, Robin van Persie, he scores when he wants
Ha. Not today, chumps.
Anyway. Forward the players marched. Senderos headed just wide, Dempsey just missed. Was it going to be our day? Djourou got lucky with a body check on the touchline, surely a second yellow, but the ref let that go. Referees are human though and soon enough Djourou offended again, this time on the edge of the box. Out came the red (and Steve Kelly took the free-kick!) and on went the Whites.
Ruiz sent a corner over and Senderos headed back across goal, from where Sidwell headed in! Pandemonium!
Then the winner, a really weird goal from Zamora. Kelly’s cross, bad clearance, Zamora with a volley on the drop, just inside the post! Those of us who had nipped out to beat the rush may have regretted our decision deeply, but this is why the club provides screens on the way out of the ground. Phew.
As I sit here digesting my post match jam sandwich (plum) I feel remarkably happy. Happy for the players, the manager, the fans, and for everyone who watched a thrilling game of football. Arsenal are a pleasing enough side but many of their fans have become insufferable (you can always spot the bad fans because they sing about our ground being shit). I wouldn’t want Piers Morgan to tarnish all the good Arsenal fans any more than I want Michael Jackson to represent Fulham, but there we are. It was a particularly satisfying win.