Fulham hosted Arsenal in the early kick-off game on Saturday afternoon. Arsenal lost to Aston Villa a weak ago, but they brushed aside Fenerbahce in the midweek Champions League qualifier. Fulham had plenty of reasons to be optimistic before the fixture as they beat Sunderland away last week, and England international Scott Parker made his debut for the home team.

The formations

 Fulham started in a 4-4-1-1 with last week's goalscorer Pajtem Kasami playing behind Dimitar Berbatov. Riise took the place of the injured Kieran Richardson at left-back, while Stockdale started in goal as Stekelenburg failed to recover from his shoulder injury. Scott Parker made his Fulham debut after his transfer from Tottenham.

 Arsenal started in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Arsene Wenger made a few changes compared to last week's clash against Aston Villa. Ramsey and Rosicky started as the holding midfielders. Sagna partnered Mertesacker in the center of defence with the latter being the only recognised central defender in the squad. Podolski played as the left attacking midfielder.

Arsenal's rotating midfield

 Arsene Wenger named three central midfield players in his starting line-up, but none of them were holding midfielders in the classical sense. Ramsey is the closest to someone who would sit in front of the defence, and break up play, but Rosicky and Cazorla are generally played further up the pitch.

Ramsey's heat map
(Image taken from Squawka.com)
 To counter the lack of a holding midfielder in the team, Wenger instructed them to rotate their positions. Ramsey played in front of the defence most of the time, with Rosicky and Cazorla taking turns in dropping deep. Ramsey made forward runs as well, but Rosicky and Cazorla had more attacking tasks than Ramsey did. This constant movement meant that Fulham's central pairing of Sidwell and Parker found it hard to pick them up. They were out numbered by Arsenal's midfield trio, and the inexperience of Parker and Sidwell together didn't help.

Cazorla's heat map
(Image taken from Squawka.com)

 Scott Parker played his first game for Fulham, and he looked exactly like what he was. A guy playing with his team-mates for the first time. Him and Sidwell failed to pick up their man to mark as Parker was confused most of the time. The situation before Arsenal's first shot on goal was a perfect example of this. Parker left his area to track the run of Ramsey, who was moving into a zone covered by Sidwell. Meanwhile Podolski ran into the zone Parker was supposed to be defending. Podolski received the ball, but his shot deflected wide. 

 With Fulham playing with two central midfielders against the mobile Arsenal midfield three, it is no surprise that Fulham's best chances came after moves that didn't involve playing the ball out through the midfield. Berbatov and Kasami combined after the goal kick of Stockdale, a quick counter-attack involving Taarabt and Berbatov after winning the ball from a corner, and the flick-on of Berbatov to Duff after a diagonal from Taarabt.

Rosicky's heat map
(Image taken from Squawka.com)
 Despite the mistakes of Parker, his display had positives to it. When he got close to an Arsenal player, he performed his defencive duties well. He won three out of three of his attempted tackles, with committing only one foul. However, that one earned him a yellow card.
 He was one of the best Fulham players in possession, he completed 92% of his passes, with a wide range of distribution. Sidwell completed 88% of his passes, but the real difference was compared to Parker was that he didn't have as good a distribution, which meant that Fulham couldn't make the most of Taarabt's pace and creativity. 

Arsenal won the midfield battle by playing 3 vs. 2 and rotating Cazorla, Rosicky and Ramsey

Adel Taarabt

 Taarabt started the match on the left. He very rarely received the ball, so he often moved to the middle. However, this created no man advantage, as Arsenal had three midfielders in that area. He couldn't receive the ball in space either to run at the defence. The one instance when he did resulted in a free-kick as Cazorla shoved him in front of the box. This shoved that Fulham should have used him on the left, where he would have had more space, as Walcott is not the best at tracking back. But Taarabt's movement to the middle left Riise on his own on the left. He was not only isolated, but didn't receive the ball to attack Jenkinson either. It would have been interesting to see what Taarabt and Riise are capable of together.
 Especially given that Fulham's best chance of the game came after the two of them combining. Riise received a long ball in the 16th minute at the edge of the box, and played a short pass to Taarabt. He wasn't marked by Walcott, or anyone else, and fired a powerful, low shot at Szczesny. The keeper saved it, but the rebound found Duff, who's shot was also saved by Szczesny.

John Arne Riise

 In the early stages of the game, Riise didn't push up, but instead stayed in his own half. The reasons for this can be twofold. First,  Jol was aware of Walcott's pace, and ordered his wing-back not to go forward. Second, Fulham's game plan involved being more cautious in the beginning of the match.

 However, when Fulham went behind (Riise was the one to play Giroud onside before the goal) they opened up and pushed higher as expected. Riise provided the width on the left by pushing so high that Walcott eventually left Jenkinson to mark him. But he very rarely received the ball, or if he did, he couldn't pick out a successful final pass. But his forward positioning left Fulham vulnerable to counter-attacks, which in the end became Fulham's undoing.

Riise's passing: He pushed up once Fulham went behind, but could not play accurate final balls.
(Image taken from Squawka.com)

Lukas Podolski

 There have been reports linking Lukas Podolski with a move back to Germany, but he showed that Arsenal should not let him go. He is not the type of attacker who will outpace defenders - like Walcott - but he uses space well, and his positioning is very good.
 His positioning skills earned him two goals. Whenever two of the three midfielders out of Ramsey, Cazorla, or Wilshere dropped deep, Podolski drifted to the middle. He was not tracked by Duff, and the inexperience of the midfield duo of Parker and Sidwell meant that they often struggled to pick him up. 

Podolski's heat map: He drifted towards the middle to put further pressure on Fulham's midfield.
(Image taken from Squawka.com)

Fulham's substitutions

  Martin Jol brought on Darren Bent for Damien Duff and Alex Kacaniklic for Adel Taarabt with 30 minutes to go. Kasami moved to the right, while Kacanklic took Taarabt's place on the left. 
Berbatov played behind Bent, and often came deep and played as the link-up player between the midfield and Bent.

 The changes helped Fulham keep the ball better. Bent moved around more than Berbatov did. This was hard for the Arsenal defenders to pick up, and created more passing options for Fulham in the final third. Also, his physicality troubled Sagna, and showed that with a different team selection, Fulham could have made this a tougher contest for Arsenal.

Bent's passes: Bent kept the ball up well, and played around the box.
(Image taken from Squawka.com)

 Karagounis was introduced in the 75th minute in place of Sidwell. He attempted a long diagonal to the left almost instantly as he came on, which was nice to see after Sidwell's inability to distribute the ball to the left wing. Karagounis tried several long shots. Almost all of them were blocked by the Arsenal defenders, but he re-introduced something that was missing since the substiuion of Taarabt. 


 Fulham were fighting a loosing battle in midfield, as they were outnumbered by Arsenal's rotaing midfield three. Steve Sidwell had a poor game, and didn't always understand each other with Scott Parker. The substitutions helped Fulham, but they were already two goals down by then, and it would have taken something extraordinary to get back into the game. On the other hand, loosing to a side aiming for the top four is not a disaster. I expect Fulham to be a lot better once everybody is fit, and Martin Jol finds his prefered team.

 Arsenal recorded two good wins this week, but they had to field a rotated side, as the squad is still lacking depth. As everybody says, they need to sign players. However, against Fulham, they made the most of their current squad, kept the ball well in the middle, and won the game by making the most of their chances.

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