Arsenal 3 – 3 Fulham: Giroud’s excellence clouded by defensive incompetence

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This game should have been all about Olivier Giroud.
I said before the game I fancied the Frenchman to score – I should have put some money on it.  He scored two fantastic headers, taking his tally to six goals from his last seven starts.  It’s worth remembering that this performance came against the titanic Brede Hangeland.  Giroud competed with the Norwegian tirelessly and this ought to have been the day that he announced himself to the Premier League with a brace in a vital Arsenal win.  Of course, as it was, the defence had other ideas and Giroud is relegated from the headlines.

Some will say he spurned a final chance to make it his day by not volunteering to take the stoppage-time penalty.  It was interesting to note his body language – as soon as the kick was awarded, he started doing a ‘calm down’ gesture with his hands.  Perhaps he sensed the game was far from won.  Having missed his last kick, perhaps he also felt the added pressure of a possible hatrick meant he wasn’t best placed to take it.  After all, he’d looked far more lethal in the air than with his feet, and he couldn’t exactly head a penalty.  Anyhow, Mikel Arteta seemed pretty keen, taking the ball of Santi Cazorla – the only man to initially volunteer.

Was this Mikel Arteta’s first bad game for Arsenal?
After the Spaniard conceded the penalty, I pondered whether that was the first major mistake he’d made in an Arsenal shirt.  He was obviously keen to amend matters with the spot-kick, but unfortunately didn’t manage it.  When you look at Arteta’s performances since signing for the club, it’s hard to hold him too responsible.  This wasn’t his best game, but you can never question his commitment.

The missed penalty is a red herring.
Like Jack Wilshere’s sending off last week, or indeed Santi Cazorla’s goal, the penalty miss should not detract from the true story of the game: that Arsenal squandered a 2-0 lead for the second time in five days.  Scoring three goals at home should be enough to win any game – especially one in which you’ve led by two clear goals.  As it was, we allowed Fulham time to play, and they duly punished us.

Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz were excellent.
Clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, and indeed Arsenal should be asking themselves how this pair managed to end up at Fulham.  I don’t mean any disrespect to the Cottagers, but both plainly have the talent to be playing at a much higher level.

Our midfield were a mess.
Forgive me, but I don’t understand why a holding midfielder, Francis Coquelin, frequently found himself in a more advanced position than the more creative Mikel Arteta.   Also, I am conscious this may be heresy, but I’m not sure about the validity of keeping Santi Cazorla in the central three.  He drops in to wide areas to look for space, which means that the two left behind occasionally look a little isolated.  In the unlikely instance that everyone is fit and available, I’d like to see Arteta, Diaby and Wilshere in the middle with Cazorla drifting in from one of the wide positions.

The ‘Steve Bould effect’ myth has been destroyed.
After Arsenal kept a clean sheet in the first three games of the season, I said this:

“I’d like to go on record and say I think our defensive excellence has been somewhat overstated in the early part of this season.  Just as us conceding ten in the first three games of last season was anomalous, the three clean sheets could be a similar statistical oddity.  It will take a longer run of consistency before I declare that Steve Bould has replaced the current back four with clones of our well-drilled mid-90s heroes.”

I wish I had been wrong.   After today’s game, Arsenal no longer hold the statistic title of meanest defence in the league, and it’s easy to see why.

The “Steve Bould has fixed everything” narrative was a myth created by people who wanted to use it as stick to beat Arsene Wenger with.  And as for the ‘zonal marking’ on the corner from which Berbatov scored, I have to confess I simply can’t see the logic in leaving opposition players to make untracked, unmarked runs and attack the ball.

With Spurs at City tomorrow, this weekend ought to have been a time to put us in a powerful position ahead of next week’s North London derby.  Instead, that game is looking very crunchy indeed.

Gunnerblog is the brainchild of childbrained football writer James McNicholas. Aside from Gunnerblog, James currently contributes to Bleacher Report, The Mirror and ESPN.