Nasri scores his second shortly hereafter. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images).
1 - 0 Nasri 14'
1 - 1 Kamara 30'
2 - 1 Nasri 75'
Samir Nasri put the shine on sixty minutes of loagy play by Arsenal with two serious goals sandwiching a first-half Diomansy Kamara leveller as Arsenal vaulted into the top spot today. Chelsea drew at home against Everton, and Manchester United have a game in hand after their match was postponed due to snow.
For the first fifteen minutes today, it looked like Arsenal were going to run away with it. Andrei Arshavin had a good volley chance blocked by Mark Schwarzer at the near post before putting Nasri through on goal a couple of minutes later. He could only toepoke the ball wide of the right post, though, Schwarzer having come out to cut off most of the angle. Arsenal were perhaps missing chances to shoot in much of the early going, but they wouldn't have to wait too long for an opener.
Aaron Hughes' touch on a pass was too heavy, and Arshavin stole in from the left and took the ball away. He kept cutting towards the middle, and Nasri made a run into space on the right. Arshavin rolled the ball a little lightly through, but Nasri's first touch took him across Brede Hangeland, who missed, and then he danced past Hughes, who also missed. The only choices left at that point were keep dancin' or to shoot; Nasri opted for the latter, smashing the ball into the back of the net from six yards for his 10th goal this year.
Arsenal kept pressing for a second after Nasri's goal; he was giving Matthew Briggs all kind of trouble, getting past him at every opportunity. Jack Wilshere tried to set up Marouane Chamakh for a chance, Arshavin had another shot saved, and then Alex Song's volley was woefully off target from short range after a lovely Tomas Rosicky cross. Arsenal were blowing chances, and as it has many times already this season, it would come back to bite them in the posterior.
Fulham went on the attack, and as Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny both tried to clear the ball, Squillaci met the latter's face with his forehead. Koscielny crumpled to the ground, tried to stand up, watched as Clint Dempsey took control of the loose ball, played Kamara through onside, and the striker buried his shot past Fabianski. It was Fulham's second shot of the match against about a dozen from Arsenal, but it was 1-1. The Emirates crowd was silenced, except for those booing and voicing their anger. Koscielny had to be stretchered off, and Johan Djourou replaced him.
Arsenal were suddenly under a lot of pressure, and they were lucky to see the half out without conceding again, Lukasz Fabianski rushing out to block another Kamara effort. As halftime approached, Arsenal were on the back foot, and the natives were restless, but the whistle arrived without further incident.
Arsenal came out in the second half looking to pull ahead immediately. Rosicky fired wide and Arshavin had a shot saved before Arsène Wenger grew impatient and put on Robin van Persie in place of Rosicky. Fulham had been making life difficult for Arsenal's midfield, though, and that only continued. Andy Johnson came on for Kamara, and Theo Walcott came on in place of Jack Wilshere as Arsenal really started to bomb forward.
van Persie had gradually started to play his way into the match, his rust showing on a chance where he couldn't pull the trigger on a shot before losing control, but a few minutes later, put in the same situation, driving at defense, he slid the ball into space instead of shooting. Nasri ran onto it, went around one defender and then around Mark Schwarzer, nearly putting the ball out, but swiveling and curling it home from point-blank range. It was another goal displaying immense footwork, and Arsenal were back ahead at 2-1. The storm was coming.
Dickson Etuhu missed just wide, and towards the end of regular time, Zoltan Gera let fly with a wicked daisy cutter, but Fabianski dove low to his right and was there. Arsenal tried desperately to get into the corners and hold out for time, but Fulham kept the pressure on. The defending was last-ditch and desperate, but when Nasri cut inside as the clock struck 94:00, Chris Foy called it.
2-1, Arsenal victorious, but not necessarily totally compelling. From the twitter feed of 7AM Kickoff, some stats:
Song had a rough day: "Squillaci was Arsenal's best at clearing the ball with 4/6, Song was the worst at 1/6 and 0/4 in the air...Arshavin was the most profligate passer, at 68% with 16 misplaced passes. Song had a season high 13 misses."
But Arsenal as a whole had a rough day passing-wise: "Arsenal completed a season low 75% of 560 passes. Sagna was the most prolific attempting 84 passes -- 15% of the total."
Djourou was excellent in the air; he really is the team's best aerial defender, and should be starting every match right now on form: "Djourou was perfect 7/7 in tackles today -- 6/6 in the air and 1/1 on the ground." As good as he is in the air, though, Koscielny is almost perfect on the ground, but not great in the air. None of Arsenal's defenders are perfect, not even Thomas Vermaelen, who has a tendency to go forward too often and be out of position against counters.
Still, they all have their strengths. And Arsenal won. And Arsenal is top of the table for a week. Next up: Partizan.