Arsenal 3-3 Fulham

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.

21 thoughts on “Arsenal 3-3 Fulham

  1. Berbalicious.

    “is any other ground better value for money in terms of entertainment? (ref to Emirates)

    Craven Cottage. Every football team should be managed by Martin Jol.” From Guardian’s MBM today.

    another good quote…”i’ve been lost in Berbatov but Ruiz has played beautifully, with the same languorous class of our Bulgarian hero. One outside-of-the-left-foot pass to Riise in the first half was stunning.”

  2. Excellent stuff and Jol turning away losses to draws, but maybe it’s time to get organised and a bit boring again. Defensively suspect. Hangerland and Hughes iffy so often today. Loved it though.

  3. This game stunned the rational mind like a koan; I’m incapable of thinking about it rationally right now. Arsenal, it should be noted, haven’t beaten Fulham in their last 4 attempts.

    Ruiz was incredible today, probably the most complete game I’ve seen him play for Fulham. This is obviously unscientific, but Berbatov (with his 2 goals and an assist), is being blown out by Ruiz in the FoF MOTM poll today, and that’s a forum that has had a fair share of Ruiz doubters in the past.

  4. I was only able to catch the first half on the computer as the girlfriends parents arrived at half time, but after a poor start it was great to watch Fulham attacking with panache away from home. We are getting to the point where no matter how many goals are scored against us, we always have a chance of getting something out of the game, a sort of mid-table Man Utd.

    As mentioned above, Ruiz’s pass with the outside of his boot was insane. If the subesquent move had been a goal (it so nearly was) it would have been one of the greatest Fulham goals of all time – outside of the boot 25yrd pass;drilled cross;backheel flick into goal.

    At this point, Ruiz is starting to pass like Roberto Baggio in an around the area. He is stepping up and demanding the ball, controlling play and looking outstanding. Arsenal do suit him though, since Arteta was their sole defensive midfielder today.

    As for Berbatov, what can be said. His presence makes the whole team massively better, to the point we can play Stephen Sidwell and Chris Baird in midfield and look like the better passing team against Arsenal. At the Emirates.

  5. Am I the only person surprised that Jol left a substitution unused? I was expecting Petric or Rog-dog to come on to put more attacking pressure on Arsenal late in the game. What was up with that?

  6. I wonder if Berbatov would make a good captain? Has he ever captained a team before? He’s certainly a great leader on the field, vocal, critical, badgering. Far more so than Hangeland.

    Ruiz was the best player on the pitch. Class act.

  7. It’s days like this where I unequivocally hate this sport.

    Referees should not have so much power to make judgement calls like that so late in a match without any checks or ability to be overruled by their fellow officials.

    Dowd’s idiocy and his idiocy alone was the difference between 1 and zero points. Don’t give me this “well we put ourselves in X position” or “we didn’t deserve it” or even “justice!”. What happened should not have been called. And even if it did, other officials should have seen it and told Dowd he made a mistake.

    1. Really. 3-3 draws with two highly attacking teams, with constantly shifting momentum, and ending in a last-kick penalty save are the days where you “unequivocally hate” football. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed it so much!

        1. The thing of it is, the result barely matters anymore. The quality of the football and the unpredictable nature of our football is just so bloody entertaining. In my time, Micky Adams turned us around from nothing (still my favourite memory), Tigana got us playing the best football I’d ever seen, Hodgson took us further than even I could have dreamt as a child, and these were all incredible periods of time to support Fulham. But there’s something about what Jol has us doing now that is just . . . fun.

          See this little bit from Guardian’s MBM:

          ‘”Say what you like about Arsenal (and plenty of people do), they’re not boring,” says David White. “The Emirates is expensive bit why does everyone correlate value for money with winning – what about entertainment? Is any other ground better value for money in terms of entertainment?”

          ‘Craven Cottage. Every football team should be managed by Martin Jol.’

          These days, I feel a bit like Nick Hornby, rediscovering my love of a sport and team I didn’t really know I had fallen out of love with (and in truth hadn’t). I’ve even bought Football Manager Handheld on my android tablet and wasted a weekend reshaping the Fulham of 2012 into a Jol like attacking machine, the first time I’ve played these games since Champ Man in the ’90s. Happy days!

        2. But the ball was a fraction of an inch away from making this exciting match completely moot because of a judgement call like that without any officiating conference to make sure the call was right. It’s happened both for us and against us too many times in the past.

          That’s what I mean about hating this sport on days like Saturday. There seems to be an onus on “efficiency” than getting the call right. And so what’s the point of playing or watching under this type of “whistle/don’t whistle first; ask questions later” system?

          Take this: in the Alabama/Texas A&M college football game on Saturday, A&M, only up 5 with like 40 seconds left, had a fourth and 2 or so and was about to punt the ball back to Alabama. There was movement on the line. The officials convened and determined that it was an Alabama player in the neutral zone that caused an A&M player to false start. Five yard penalty to Alabama, first down A&M, Alabama’s perfect season and national championship shot over. They took an extra 90 seconds and got the call right.

          If this chain of events had happened under the same officiating system in soccer? Ref would have blown the whistle, probably made the wrong call without any consultation, Alabama would have gotten the ball back and possibly scored and won. Who cares about getting the call right when we can just rely on these this bullshit notions of “justice” and “things evening themselves out over the season.”

          I agree I prefer these refs over most, but the whole system that needs to change.

          1. but in this case, even if people had convened like that, I don’t know that the decision was wrong enough to be overturned. Phil Dowd saw what he saw, it’s just his interpretation. And discussing that wouldn’t have changed much.

            This from Yahoo on the subject of the rule:

            The interpretation of FIFA Law 12 tells referees to consider a few things when determining handball infractions. First, the movement of the hand is considered. If the hand moved to the ball, then the handling of the ball is most likely intentional. But if the ball moved to the hand, it may not be intentional. Second, the distance of the player to the ball is considered. A handball that occurred from a ball played close is unexpected and most likely unintentional. But when a ball is played from far away, a player has time to anticipate the ball and avoid handling it with their arm or hand. Finally, the position of the hand is considered. Touching the ball with an arm that is hanging away from the body is not necessarily an infraction. Once again, the handling of the ball must be intentional.

            So clearly this wasn’t a handball, but Dowd must have decided in the heat of battle that Reither did something to make it deliberate.

            Dunno, it’s wrong, but this is part of sport. If we’re just watching this for absolute justice then perhaps it isn’t right, but to coin a cliche, it’s the grey areas, the controversy, that generates a lot of the excitement.

            And it really was a fantastic match. That doesn’t excuse Dowd’s decision, but as noted elsewhere, I don’t know that Ruiz really deserved the penalty either.

    2. It’s not that bad a decision though. It’s wrong, but as a player in that situation there’s no doubt at all that part of you will instantly think “rats, penalty!”

      There’s always been a ‘ball to hand’ or ‘hand to ball’ thing and in truth it’s very hard to judge. No handball is ever really deliberate, after all. Clearly it wasn’t the right decision but it wasn’t an impossibly bad one I don’t think. Equally, Ruiz’s fall from Arteta’s tug wasn’t 100% either, and I suspect that player its part in the last minute pen.

      I read the other day that according to post-game reviews, Premier League referees get something like 93% of decisions correct and 99% of offsides correct, which are astonishing figures given the speed of the game and the efforts players can take to deceive. You’ll get some error in there but for the most part we’re lucky to have the referees we have. Of course, had Arteta scored, I might not be so rational…

  8. Nice review. My only quibble is this:

    “As does Bryan Ruiz, who is starting to silence his doubters. Soon there will be no weaknesses to pick on.”

    Not sure why the debate around Ruiz needs to be so binary. He was a flawed player who has begun to adapt, be much less profligate with the ball, and appears to be stronger than the 2012 version. We are very lucky to have him. But not all players develop positively (see e.g. Collins John), and I am sure that a lot of his positive development has arisen after the club identified and rectified his weaknesses. Criticism and picking on are two very different things.

    1. I understand your point, but I think the issue with Ruiz is that there was a significant section of the support who refused to see any positives from his performances and trotted out tired cliches about him not being ‘hard enough’ for the Premier League and pining for the likes of Michael Brown in the squad (yuck).

      And whilst Ruiz is far from perfect, last season his measurable output was very similar to that of Damien Duff – who was lauded last season continously whilst Ruiz was derided.

      Ruiz’s flourishing is a victory for patient analysis and looking beyond the stereotype. In a way it is ironic that he has really come into his own playing alongside another player often castigated for being too lazy – Berbatov – but was instantly loved by all Fulham fans.

      1. yes exactly. At games there’s always some idiot who couldn’t look beyond the apparently languid approach. You’re correct,rjbii, but some people were way over the top in their criticism of him

  9. I thought Ruiz was brilliant. Tough on the ball, skipping round players with strong challenges. He seemed to be filling the Dembele void beautifully. (Lets ingnore that crap give-away that led to that last attack and the penalty.)

    Who was in fact playing upfront on Saturday? Are we like a west london version of Barcelona with no strikers? Whatever, it worked!

    1. “Who was in fact playing upfront on Saturday? Are we like a west london version of Barcelona with no strikers? Whatever, it worked!”

      It did work on Saturday but I think we saw against Everton that a Berbatov – Ruiz combination won’t always be successful. Both dropped very deep and left us without a focal point up front or anyone stretching the opposition defence. Against a side that pressed as well as Everton it was a problem.

      That said, I do love watching the two of them together. Saturday was great fun – managed to bag in a ticket for cheap in the posh Arsenal seats. Held my enthusiasm in check fairly successfully, although got a bit carried away at the end.

  10. Re the refereeing issues: soccer lags behind most other sports in refusing to use video refs. As for the “controversy generating the excitement” I find this a very strange kind of logic. Other sports realised that if their officials are the least informed people involved (they are the only ones who don’t have the benefit of a replay) it undermines their authority and shows the game in a bad light. It is ESPECIALLY important in a game where a single score has such a high value.

    As for Bryan Ruiz I am delighted for him. Comparisons with Collins John seem a bit off; surely Ruiz had made much more of a mark at Twente than Collins did in his pre-Fulham days. The dilemma for me is seeing a player as talented as Petric on the bench, but how could Jol accommodate him alongside Ruiz and Berbatov?

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