D’oh! Fulham v Arsenal analysis

Have you noticed how much time our players seemed to spend defending while running towards their own goal?

That tends to happen when you’ve been sucked up field then hit on the break, something that happened quite a lot.   It felt like we were being quite naive, getting excited then hammered again.  You could almost see the players with their “D’oh!” speech bubbles.

It’s the old chestnut: you make the field big when you attack and small when you defend.  Arsenal sat back and let us have it a bit (at least later on) but because everyone was in the half we didn’t really look like finding any room.  Then they attacked and by jove they found space.

Here are the goals, in reverse order as it happens.  Doesn’t matter.  On each occasion we’re turned around, there’s acres of space, and our defensive shape is in tatters.  Roy Hodgson’s Fulham were very careful with the ball so that they didn’t get done in transition.  Jol’s Fulham are a transition disaster waiting to happen, which might explain why we’re not doing nearly as well at home in his time in charge.  We have the ball, teams wait for the breakdown and pounce.

space6 space5 space4 space3 space2

I see a couple of issues with the team as it stands.

  1. Scott Parker seemed to get ‘worse team mojo boost’ – I may be wrong on this but he played a much more progressive game than I had expected. I know he was Johnny 200% for West Ham, but given his age I had expected a more disciplined performance from him.   But he more or less did a Sidwell, going where the action was.   Maybe at Spurs, surrounded by better players, he had to play a part, which made him and those around him better.  Here he seemed to want to do everything, which is fine because he’s really good, but it meant that he wasn’t the defensive presence I had expected him to be, and that’s really what we needed.
  2. Tony Gilroy made the astute point that Boateng had done really well filling space against Sunderland.  Well we could probably have done with a performance like that against Sunderland, someone to do the dirty work that we really need doing.  This almost isn’t arguable.  Just look at the pictures above.  I know it’s Arsenal but are you saying we’re such a special attacking force that none of our players need to bother with protecting the back four?  Balls to that.  The midfield’s defensive work wasn’t good enough.
  3. Adel Taraabt is a creative force, but he only seems to create for himself.  While Ruiz threads key passes all over the shop, Taraabt’s openings are for his own shots.  It’s exciting but there’s a reason he went about 50 shots before he scored last year at QPR.
  4. The thing with footballers is that much of what makes good ones is not immediately obvious.  So you might have some value as a flashy attacker but if you never pass and never defend you’re not making those around you better, are you?  You’re contributing to a team-wide issue, that of players being less than the sum of their collective parts.  Dickson Etuhu got all kinds of crap but made the team better. Bobby Zamora made his team exponentially better.   I’m not sure Taraabt helps Fulham.
  5. The attacking unit is intriguing but if you’re not going to play Ruiz then you’re only half the team you could be.  He and Bent could cause a lot of bother, and they absolutely have to start from now on.   People keep going on about a creative central midfielder but here’s the thing: if you want a creative central midfielder, is he going to defend too?   If he is, you’re talking about buying a complete player.  If he isn’t, well we’re too lopsided already, so where’s he going to play.   A front three of Ruiz, Berbatov and Bent offers as much attacking prowess as any team will need, provided there’s a degree of midfield control and provided the defence is offered a degree of protection.    Perhaps that means Sidwell, Parker and Boateng.
  6. Lovely to see a proper centre-forward’s goal from Bent. We always used to note how Dempsey scored those because he went to the right place to get them, which is half the battle.  As the goal unfolded Bent didn’t do anything too clever, just peeled back off his defender, hovered a little then went for the back post.  He got his reward with a simple tap-in, but that’s his gift.
  7. We can’t panic after losing to a big team, but it’s about how you lose.  We were spoiled under Hodgson, there was a tactical coherence and we as a crowd became to expect certain basics to be fulfilled.   It would be naive to just say “this never happened under Roy” because it did, but look at those pictures again and look at all the space… we used to be a clever team.  It feels like now we’re a stupid team.

14 thoughts on “D’oh! Fulham v Arsenal analysis

  1. Good analysis, Rich.

    The central midfielders lacked the compactness in defence which Jol will surely drill into them over the coming weeks. I’m delighted that we have signed Parker, but he did look hesitant at times. The BT coverage certainly pointed out his culpability for not tracking Podolski on their second goal.

    I was also surprised that Sidwell got the vote over Boateng, but as per a recent post on your Scott Parker piece, hope that Diarra will come good again. If we manage to develop a really solid back six, and Bent’s pace stretches the opposition forward there should be enough space for three creative players to do some damage.

    The question is, which three, in what combination? I don’t think Jol knows yet. And will the obvious candidates be capable of putting in the necessary defensive shift?

  2. “Tony Gilroy made the astute point that Boateng had done really well filling space against Sunderland. Well we could probably have done with a performance like that against Sunderland, someone to do the dirty work that we really need doing.”

    This is a good point. The second goal, in particular, happened because, not only did the rebound of Walcott’s shot bounce fortuitously (for Arsenal) right to Podolski, but also, there was nobody near the top of the box tracking Podolski. Parker is closer to him but not making any particular effort to stay with him.

  3. I wondered if you’d post about this match (thereby implying that you’re back good and proper; nice) and whether Etuhu would get a mention. It was apt that he did. The challenge for Jol is indeed that only half his sexiest players can be fielded concurrently in a set-up that makes sense. Talking of which…

    Keeping my old dad company, my wife watched her first Fulham match since performing a similar function several times in the run-up to Hamburg. She enthused then about the coherence of it all — even she could comprehend what was going on. No longer. She could follow the action, but the way we were playing no longer made the same sense,

    Whether through the eyes of FFC or Royal Ballet fans — it’s the teamwork my wife is most into there — the gist is your final point, 7.

  4. Last season we were the only team in the league who failed to win a game after falling behind. I think you highlight why very succinctly here.

    The more worrying thing is it seems to show Jol has learnt nothing about attacking when behind in games.

    We’ve got some big home games coming up against teams who will finish in an around us in the table, and it will be interesting to see what happens if we fail to get the necessary results there.

  5. I think it’s reasonable to be experimenting with how the new players will fit in and we have to factor in that Bent, Taarabt, Dejagah and Kakaniklic have injury/fitness issues and are not yet at their best.

    I think though that Jol is looking for 2 holding/defensive midfielders, 2 strikers and 2 guys in midfield to provide energy and pace plus some service to the strikers in addition to that which the full backs and Parker will provide.

    I also think that Parker, Bent and Berbatov are certain starters and that the latter two are what they are. No point in wishing they did more or different – you either accept or reject the package.

    I hope Boateng is to be Parker’s partner because to me Sidwell is a nearly man – Parker lite. As Bresnan is to the England cricket team so Etuhu was to us and we need someone to play that role.

    The choice for the two remaining places is genuinely exciting and I wouldn’t be excluding any of Taarabt, Kasami , Dejagah or Kakaniklic but would probably favour the latter two.

    That seems to me to leave Ruiz redundant except as first reserve to Bent and Berbatov.

    Adding Steklenburg, Amorbieta and Richardson to the mix it means that we were without (as starters) 7 of the players that I would pick as my best 11. May not be Jol’s but it shows how much better we could be.

    Welcome back from me too, by the way. Not the same without CCN.

  6. The Parker, Sidwell, Boateng scenario is real I think and I agree that Parker just looked like a better version of Sidwell not a Makelele-type defensive rock. My worry with Jol is that there doesn’t appear to be any kind of controlled gameplan; it’s either pile loads forward or defend desperately, although the midfield personnel is not a help in this regard.

    Great post as always Rich, I had many of the same thoughts so perhaps I’m biased.

  7. I think point four is a very good one. And this is precisely why Berbatov should be dropped! The whole team is weaker when he’s in it. He slows down a lot of attacks. And whenever he misplaces a pass (which happens more frequently than some people realise), people offer excuses along the lines of “his teammates are not on the same wavelength”. What utter nonsense. Part of a footballer’s job is to be on the same wavelength as his teammates…

    1. Thank you Ben

      Finally, somebody who does not think Berbatov is the second coming!
      This guy’s entire attitude and, worse, Jol’s pandering to it, has derailed any progress that our team can make.
      Jol has stated that we need to be faster on the break, have a cutting edge etc. Then, yesterday, by playing Berbatov deep, it slowed down our attacking game – to the point of redundancy. Berbatov’s demeanour towards other players is scandalous; as early as the 10th minute, he was slating Bent for some unknown crime. His sloppiness and casual approach on the ball meant the breakdown of so much of our build up play that I was seething. Until Jol has the strength to cease his sycophancy and do something about this, we have no chance of progressing. Sure, he will score a dozen decent goals per season but I, for one, would rather see a new attacking force entirely.

  8. What do you think our first team is rich? I would go:

    Stekelenburg
    Riether, Brede, Amore, Richardson
    Parker, Boateng
    Ruiz, Berbatov, Kaca
    Bent

    I think that Ruiz’ tracking back has enabled him to play on the right where he did so well in Holland, with Riether’s overlapping runs enabling Ruiz to cut inside.

    I think Kaca should play on the left, because his pace and direct running will give defences something else to think about.

    Boateng is a better option than Sidwell TBH, though Diarra would start if he ever regains his fitness.

    The back 5, Parker, Berbatov and Bent pick themselves to be honest, it’s just a case of how well Ruiz can play on the
    right. Hopefully a new LB as well as RB cover.

    I’m hopefull of a top half finish this season, injuries permitting

  9. Rich – great analysis. I follow many of the FFC related blogs and I can fairly say that your analysis has the most insight and it’s the most balanced.

    I agree that it is a shame that Ruiz seems to be the odd man out after the recent additions to the team. Could it be that FFC is planning to sell him so that the club has the cash to buy a couple of players in return? There are rumblings about him being sold to Wolfburg. If this happens, not only Phil Mison would be very happy as he’s called for Ruiz to “leave the team immediately”, but we would have lost one of our top players that could have had a breakout year in his third season at the EPL.

  10. Let me ask what I guess might be a stupid question: why is everyone convinced that Parker is better than the midfielders we already had? The article that was going around where Carl Cole was praising his leadership is nice, but I mean on the field. I saw a lot of people who were touting the fact that he was England’s player of the year a couple of years ago, but A) the England national team isn’t Spain or Brazil, and B) two years ago is great, but we don’t have him two years ago, we have him now and two years from now. Can someone show me something tangible, from his chalkboards from last year or something along those lines, to show why I should be excited about him?

    1. He’s a 100% er, the classic british bulldog but can also play. His type will always be fans’ favourites over here but I think you can tell within a few minutes that he’s on a different plane to others in the position.

      1. Sure, but I mean, you’re basically telling me what I already knew re. his type and how he’ll be a fan favorite. I guess I just didn’t see a whole lot to convince me that he’s “on a different plane,” as you put it (and as I noted above, he was the one who probably should’ve been marking Podolski on his goal), but on the other hand he was thrown in on the deep end against Arsenal so it’s a bit harsh to judge just based on that. I’ll give it some more time and see if I eventually get the same impression that others seem to have.

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