LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Theo Walcott of Arsenal scores during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Arsenal at Craven Cottage on May 22, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
van Persie 29
Arsenal concluded the 2010-11 season with a 2-2 draw away to 10 man Fulham, with only a last minute Theo Walcott goal preventing Arsenal from ending the season with 3 straight losses. In the end, Arsenal were condemned to 4th place anyway, as Manchester City won, but Arsenal seemed to lack urgency when trailing. Only Walcott's goal saved it from being a dismal end to a dismal season.
Arsene Wenger named Marouane Chamakh, Samir Nasri, Johan Djourou and Abou Diaby in the lineup, moving away from the 4-2-3-1 to a loose 4-4-2 shape. However, with Robin van Persie dropping deep, and Aaron Ramsey, nominally on the right, playing closer in the middle, it was more of 4-3-2-1 shape, with the width provided by the marauding Gibbs and Sagna. Those two combined for Arsenal's first chance: Sagna whipped in a cross that evaded Marouane Chamakh, but found Kieran Gibbs, making a run to the far post. His header was saved by Schwarzer, to keep the score level.
Soon, and predictably it was 1-0 Fulham. Djourou and Vermaelen have never played in a competitive game before, and with the inexperienced Gibbs, the defensive line was too high, and Zamora, who ripped the backline apart, was found in too much space from Dempsey's pass, as Gibbs, Vermaelen and Djourou all went to close down the American. Zamorra cut back for Steve Sidwell to slide home, and Fulham had scored on the break.
Both Zamora and Chamakh had free roles, and used them to their advantage, pulling defenders out of place. Chamakh's link up play in particular was excellent, and it was encouraging to see him back to his best.
It was soon 1-1 however. The excellent Marouane Chamakh dropped deep to exchange a 1-2 with Diaby, whose hard-hit pass was taken down superbly by van Persie before he finished into the corner of the net. It's van Persie's 9th game in a row where he has scored away from home, and his 18th goal of the season, all in 2011. Arsenal's season may have gone down the drain in the last 2 months, but not due to Robin van Persie, who has been excellent.
Fulham nearly retook the lead when Danny Murphy charged through the box, and appeared to hand ball. Nothing was given, and he evaded Szczesny, but Vermaelen made a superb tackle/block to keep the ball out of the Arsenal net. It was a tackle reminiscent of his best form last season.
Arsenal started the second half off quickly, and Samir Nasri's free kick was pushed away by Schwarzer. They were soon down again, however, with Sagna not getting tight enough to Greening, who crossed for Zamora who jumped higher than Vermaelen to head home. Arsene Wenger then made 3 subs, with Eboue replacing the hapless Gibbs, and Ramsey coming off for Walcott and Arshavin coming on for Diaby. Nasri went to the middle, and Arsenal had some much needed width. Despite being torn apart by Samir Nasri when the two sides met back in December, Matthew Briggs, the young Fulham defender, had no direct opponent until Walcott came on, as Ramsey played more inside. The main provider of width was Bacary Sagna, and he attempted 94 passes--totals usually reserved for Cesc Fabregas or Jack Wilshere.
When Walcott came on, Briggs had a direct opponent, and began to lose out to the pacey winger. The equalising goal came from the right side, with Vermaelen's long diagonal finding Walcott on the right. Walcott took on and went past Briggs, before firing across Mark Schwarzer and off the post and in. It was a nice way to end the season, but for long periods of the game, Arsenal didn't look like equalising, even when Fulham went down to 10 when substitute Zoltan Gera recklessly went in two footed on Thomas Vermaelen; a red card that could cost them a Europa League place.
With Walcott's introduction a game changer, it begs the question why he wasn't brought on earlier, especially with Briggs being inexperienced and looking tired. Credit to Wenger for bringing him on eventually, but had he been brought on earlier for the ineffectual Ramsey, Arsenal could've won. Perhaps, though, that is a poetic result for Arsenal, as many games this year could've been won and weren't.