I’ve written about 20 opening paragraphs and none of them seem to work. My mind is racing. I can’t quite take everything in.
The important thing here is to appreciate that for all the talk in the media, Arsenal are one of the game’s better teams. They are good players and today they were at home. Then they went 2-0 up. In these situations it isn’t normal for opposing teams to emerge with much.
And yet here we were, 3-2 up late on. Media people like to bang on about spirit and determination but that’s a given really. No, you get results like this by playing fearless attacking football, but by doing it with gifted attacking footballers.
That’s the trick. In Dimitar Berbatov Fulham have a player who could be playing for the league champions. Also, he’s not just a reactive player who can only work with what he’s given; Berbatov is still playing champions level football for Fulham. It’s astonishing. He’s a lot better than he looks, and he looks fantastic.
As does Bryan Ruiz, who is starting to silence his doubters. Soon there will be no weaknesses to pick on, for today he was everywhere, tackling, running, creating. From a distance he could have been Dembele handing off potential tacklers. Or, as Toby put it, he could have been David Beckham circa England v Greece, adopting that demeanor that says “I am going to do everything in my power to make this game end well for my team” and playing an absolute blinder.
Back to the start. Arsenal scored early when Giroud thumped in a near post header having escaped Aaron Hughes en route. It was the sort of goal that you enjoy if your team scores it, but which looks very poor if you’re on the other end. Here we go again, etc. Indeed, not long after this a careless jab of John Arne Riise’s boot sent a ball into a dangerous area for Mikel Arteta to square to Lukas Podolski, who sliced through the penalty area and scored a second.
This should have been the end of things, but Fulham got one back, Ruiz swinging a corner into the middle of the six yard box from where Berbatov made everyone else leave it so he could head home unopposed. I don’t know how that works, one suspects Berbatov has access to skill-sets beyond those we mortals might understand, something psychic probably, and anyway there it was, 2-1.
As if to underline his mastery of the world of football Berbatov then picked out Alex Kacaniklic for an equaliser. This was odd, too, Kacaniklic can’t have been in Berbatov’s field of vision, but there came the ball, stood up carefully, and Kacaniklic walloped home a header from further out than you’d expect him to be able to score with a header from. Like I say, there’s some funny stuff going on and ultimately you just have to smile and not think too much about it. (But can Berbatov control crosses even after someone else has headed them? How else to explain it?).
2-2, then, and we weren’t done. Bryan Ruiz collapsed under some mild tugging from Arteta and Phil Dowd offered Fulham a penalty. Berbatov decided to score to the goalkeeper’s right, and that was 3-2.
Arsenal had to go for it, then, and equalised when Giroud headed home again. This set up a devastatingly worrysome finale in which Dowd gave Arsenal an iffy injury time penalty, Arshavin having crossed directly at poor Sasha Reither’s hand from close range. Arteta shot low to Schwarzer’s left, but the big man in green pushed it away. Justice!
3-3 was a fair result in the end. Fulham took the old Blackpool approach to away games, which seems like the sensible thing to do given the quality of player we’re able to use these days. Jol used Ashkan Dejagah on the right, and he brought a rugby winger’s directness to our play down that flank. On the other wing Kacaniklic flickered in and out, but found himself in a few good positions and had to be respected. Berbatov and Ruiz we’ve already talked about. Both were fabulous.
Martin Jol has made football fun again. Not that it wasn’t fun, it’s just that there’s a purity about what we’re doing now. It’s perhaps too obvious to reach for the Dutch explanation, to suggest that Fulham are taking that country’s famous footballing mentality into games and producing such great entertainment as a result, but it’s starting to feel that way. Terrific stuff.