Another very decent week has come to a close for the Arsenal.
A comfortable, controlled win over Dortmund in mid-week secured safe passage to the second round of the Champions League — in top spot to boot! — and a determined fight-back against Fulham saw us grab a draw in the Premier League.
It would be rather greedy to complain about the performance of the lads against Fulham given the way this group have pulled themselves out of the mud in recent times to produce a very good run of results.
After five straight wins in the Premier League there was always likely to be a little blip around the corner. It came on the weekend against a Fulham team that played to the best of their ability and took advantage of the lack of energy that often infects teams the game following a European outing.
For much of the first half we were clearly stronger than Fulham, Aaron Ramsey in particular wasted a couple of great chances, but our opponents settled into their organised approach and were difficult to break down as the game wore on.
Even so, their goal came as an enormous surprise. After a sustained period of defending Fulham broke forward and John Arne Riise, who had barely crossed the halfway line, came haring into the penalty area. His presence cause a problem and Thomas Vermaelen stubbed the ball passed Wojciech Szczesny.
On first view it looked like a combination of Riise and Bobby Zamora forced the ball home but on a second watch it became clear just how bad an error Vermaelen had made. He didn’t have a particularly good game, the Belgian, often attempting to nip in to prevent Zamora retaining position and just as often getting his judgment wrong.
But if there is one thing you can always count on from Vermaelen it is his spirit and willingness to take responsibility and give everything he has to right the wrongs of a mistake. He did just that with eight minutes to go, racing into the box to power home a header from a superb Theo Walcott cross to level the scores.
Vermaelen’s willingness to accept responsibility for his mistake and then do something to fix it was wonderful to watch. It is why he is one of the most respected and important members of this Arsenal squad and why the fans love him so much.
It is worth pointing out too that a number of our defensive players have responded well to individual mistakes over the past weeks, even the past year. Per Mertesacker was barely fazed by the little blunder that saw Norwich take the lead last weekend while Wojciech Szczesny never shows any signs of Almunia or Fabianski-like jitters when he performs below his best. Even Laurent Koscielny, who could have been ruined by last year’s Carling Cup final mix-up, is a player that simply shrugs off any little error he makes the moment it is done.
I think it shows that, defensively at least, we are close to obtaining the mental strength that the manager has often spoken about. Look at the Chelsea result, where two goals were scored after Juan Mata’s belter made it 3-3 with ten minutes to go. Look at our positive result against Dortmund after their attacking start put us under sustained pressure. These are definitely good signs.
While the winning goal never came I think we can be proud of the effort our boys put in. We may have lacked a little bit of spark until the injection of Gervinho and Abou Diaby (can you believe it!?) in the final half-hour but game to game a clear spine is forming which means a place in the top four remains a good bet.
To finish off on a rather sad note today I just want to recognise the death of Welsh manager Gary Speed. He died at the age of just 42 on Sunday and, as the player with the most appearances in Premier League history and a reputation as real footballing role model, will be sorely missed. I wish his family and friends all the best.
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