René Meulensteen has made no secret of the fact that he wants to set Fulham up to try and win every single game, regardless of the opposition, and that statement was visibly evident at the Emirates on Saturday.
Naturally Arsenal enjoyed plenty of the ball and, on occasion, the Whites needed some last-ditch defending or fine goalkeeping from Maarten Stekelenburg to deny the Barclays Premier League leaders, but we were not without threat ourselves.
Wojciech Szczesny had to make half as many saves as his opposite number (two compared to Stekelenburg’s four) but that does not tell the whole story of the keeper’s afternoon as he had to make three interceptions, with two in the first half proving crucial. The first saw him dive bravely at the feet of Ashkan Dejagah who looked to latch onto Sascha Riether’s inviting first time throughball. And shortly after, Dimitar Berbatov held the ball up well before releasing Alexander Kačaniklić who, by his own admission, failed to control it as he would have liked, providing Szczesny with an invitation to smother the danger. It was good anticipation by the 23-year-old Poland international on both occasions, as any hesitancy would surely have allowed the Fulham wingers a clear sight of goal.
Stekelenburg was playing his first Premier League match since the defeat by Manchester City at the Cottage a month ago, and the Dutchman showed his worth with a dominant display between the sticks. In the first half he made a sublime double save when he kept out Bacary Sagna’s rasping strike before reacting sharply to deny Olivier Giroud what looked a certain goal on the follow up. It turns out the France striker’s effort wouldn’t have counted because of an offside decision, but Stekelenburg was not to know that when he made the block. And he was in equally inspirational form after the break, notably when he managed to push Lukas Podolski’s venomous drive onto the post.
Teams arrive at the Emirates not expecting to see much of the play, but Fulham can take pride in their 41.3 per cent of possession that was enjoyed, with Arsenal often frustrated at the Whites’ ability to keep hold of the ball. Meulensteen’s charges made 478 passes overall, 223 of which were deemed attacking, with a respectable pass success rate of 85 per cent. Arsenal, though, had a 91 per cent pass accuracy, with Mesut Ozil (87 per cent), Santi Cazorla (96 per cent) and Jack Wilshere (90 per cent) pulling the strings in midfield.
Defensively, Fulham were fairly resolute, although we did rely on clearances off the line from both Brede Hangeland and Premier League debutant Dan Burn. Additionally, we were able to block nine shots and make 21 interceptions – Steve Sidwell was our most influential player in this regard, intercepting seven Arsenal passes.