A solitary Robin van Persie goal in the second-half was all that separated Fulham and Arsenal on Saturday evening at Craven Cottage. Both sides had their fair share of chances but it was Arsenal’s Dutch striker who was able to keep his composure in front of goal, slotting past Mark Schwarzer on 52 minutes.
Making a fine start to the game, Fulham applied all the early pressure, with Clint Dempsey, Andrew Johnson and Bobby Zamora all causing the Arsenal back line problems.
Damien Duff’s involvement in the game ended on the eight minute mark when he was replaced by Zoltan Gera after picking up an injury.
A huge moment of drama ensued in the 14th minute when a combination of outstanding goalkeeping from Vito Mannone and pure fortune conspired to keep the scores levels. The opportunity came about after a promising Fulham attack down the right flank resulted in Andrew Johnson’s flicked header forcing Mannone into action. The Arsenal keeper acrobatically parried the ball into the path of Clint Dempsey who managed to fire a volley toward goal whilst off balance. Unfortunately, the ball struck Mannone in the face and was cleared.
Arsenal pushed back and created good chances for both Andrey Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner, who both failed to produce finishes of sufficient quality to trouble Mark Schwarzer. However, despite Arsenal’s forward pressuring, this was far from being an end-to-end encounter. Fulham’s resistance in midfield and at the back ensured that any ground won by the visiting team was hard fought for.
Danny Murphy, who had picked up a yellow card for taking a first-half free-kick to early, was at his tenacious best, dictating the direction of play in the centre of the park. Alongside him, Dickson Etuhu was also enjoying a fine game.
Zoltan Gera’s powerful drive brought a good save from Mannone on 35 minutes, topping off a passage of play that had the Fulham faithful on their feet in applause.
The first-half came to a conclusion with Fulham riding out a series of dangerous Arsenal corners.
The second-half got under way with Fulham attacking the Hammersmith End. Bobby Zamora was the first to take aim on goal after he was set free in midfield by a clever reverse pass from Gera. Zamora took aim from 30 yards out but whilst his effort had plenty of power, it flew just wide of Mannone’s left hand post.
Gera and Zamora combined again moments later when an excellent tackle from Gera won the ball back in a good position. The Hungarian international fed the ball to Zamora whose effort was heading in before striking a defender.
Arsenal took the lead in the 52nd minute after Robin Van Persie latched on to a diagonal ball into the Fulham penalty area, the striker controlled the ball and, with Aaron Hughes closing him down, fired a low shot past Mark Schwarzer.
Arsenal rallied following their goal and Schwarzer had to be alert to get a hand to
Bendtner’s strong attempt. Yet Fulham were not totally on the back foot and Mannone was next to display his goalkeeping prowess as he flung himself at full stretch to his right to deny Andrew Johnson’s header.
With the Gunners in the lead, the game lost some of its earlier verve as Fulham struggled to force Arsenal out of their comfort zone for long periods. However, the Whites were able to craft a good opportunity for Dempsey on 66 minutes which saw the US international’s shot defect off Sagna before grazing the side of the post. From the resulting corner, Zamora had a good chance blocked from close range.
As the game entered the closing stages, Fulham were looking increasingly dangerous in attack as the atmosphere at Craven Cottage really picked up.
Vito Mannone produced another fantastic save to deny Zamora after the Fulham striker got his head to a Paul Konchesky free-kick on 77 minutes. The Arsenal keeper showed lightning reactions to get down to his left and prevent a certain equaliser.
Roy Hodgson replaced Dickson Etuhu with Jonathan Greening on 83 minutes as he looked to give Fulham’s midfield an injection of fresh legs.
Unfortunately Fulham were unable to create any further opportunities before the final whistle.