René Meulensteen insisted there were ‘lots of positives’ to take from Fulham’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.
A resilient Fulham side were the better team in the first 45 minutes but were eventually undone by two second-half goals by Santi Cazorla.
“I was very pleased at half-time to say the least,” said Meulensteen afterwards. “I thought Arsenal started strong but we got into our stride. We knew that we needed to have a very good solid defensive performance today if we wanted to get something out of the game. On the back of the Norwich City performance in the FA Cup I stuck to the same defensive line and goalkeeper and I thought we looked very comfortable in the first half at times. If we’d produced a bit more quality in the final third we could have maybe nicked something.
“We were pleased at half-time and I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the players. We knew it was going to be even harder in the second half because they were going to step it up. The quality of players they’ve got, if you switch off for a second and don’t track the runner, they can hurt you and that’s what they did for the first goal.
“We lost the three points but there lots of positives to take from the performance from our point of view.”
Arsenal made the breakthrough in the 57th minute and soon added a second just after the hour mark but Fulham continued to press and could have set up an exciting finish when substitute Darren Bent shot wide.
Head Coach Meulensteen continued: “[The first goal] was a typical sort of Arsenal goal. We’d worked hard all week in making sure we stayed with the runners rather than following the ball but that’s what happened.
“When you’re losing 2-0 you have to throw something different at them and I felt that Arsenal were leaving space in behind so that’s why I introduced Darren. He’s great at doing that as he proved by nearly getting a goal.
“The only disappointing thing today was not getting a goal. In the first half it would have changed the completion of the game, but at 2-1 in the second, we could have put some pressure on them.”
The result leaves Fulham just above the drop zone in 17th place but Meulensteen remains confident his men can survive relegation.
“A lot of our performances have been very good but we haven’t got out of it what we deserved,” he said. “We are improving and we need to improve our defensive record but today was a really good defensive performance compared to what we’ve had in previous games where we’ve been good going forward but conceded easy goals. Today’s goals were quality from Arsenal’s point of view rather than poor defending from us.
“It’s going to be the most exciting league for many years, top and bottom,” he continued. “There are so many teams involved and one win can get you up the table but not necessarily out of trouble. You can take nothing for granted and try and pick up every point you can because it will count at the end.
“I think we can survive, definitely. The sprit is very, very good. We’ve got plenty of quality in there and in the short time I’ve been here we’re improving all the time. What we need is a run of results but that’s not always easy because of the opponents you’re playing.”
Meulensteen handed a league debut to Dan Burn after his impressive displays in the two FA Cup with Budweiser games with Norwich City. And the young defender belied his tender years by producing an excellent display alongside Brede Hangeland.
“I think he’s got a bright future,” said Meulensteen. “We recalled him from Birmingham City for the Norwich away cup game and it was the right thing to have a look at him and see where he was at. We kept him on and all credit to Lee Clark and his staff for what they’ve done with him as he’s developed into a very mature defender. To throw him in for a game like this is a massive test of ability and character and we can all agree he had a fantastic game.”