Giroud's improved form not enough for fragile Gunners
Arsenal 3 Fulham 3:When Arsenal were awarded a last-minute penalty to win a thrilling game, Olivier Giroud wanted to take the spot kick. “Yeah, I was confident,” the striker said, and who could doubt him? The €16 million summer signing from Montpellier had enjoyed his finest game in an Arsenal shirt.
But it was Mikel Arteta, still smarting from conceding a 67th-minute penalty which gave Fulham a 3-2 lead, who grabbed the ball and sized up the potentially match-winning last kick. But Mark Schwarzer, in the Fulham goal, dived to produce an athletic save.
Giroud might have been the hat-trick hero but his burgeoning self-belief did not extend to him over-riding the instructions of Arsene Wenger.
“Some guys have asked me why I didn’t take the ball but it’s like that before the game . . . the boss has a list of penalty-takers,” Giroud said. “It’s very difficult because Mikel was under pressure. In the last minute, it’s not very easy to shoot a penalty. We need to concede fewer goals because it’s too difficult to win if we concede a lot of goals.”
It was shocking to witness his team’s fragility, which gripped from the moment that Dimitar Berbatov ambled into the six-yard box to head Fulham’s first goal from Bryan Ruiz’s corner. There was a time when a 2-0 Arsenal lead meant the end of the game. No longer. Schalke came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 last Tuesday and Fulham went one better before Giroud pegged them back.
It is unlikely the goalkeeper Vito Mannone will play again for a while, given that Wojciech Szczesny is fit again. Thomas Vermaelen endured another uncomfortable game at left-back, yet his toils were reflected across the backline.
“It is a concern because we looked quite solid defensively until now and against Fulham we looked very fragile,” Wenger said. “I put that down to the fact that at 2-0 up, instead of becoming more aggressive, we became a bit easier; rather than continuing to push forward, to close them down. We let them play, and that was a big problem for us.”
Fulham’s contribution owed everything to Berbatov and Ruiz, who could not be pinned down. Berbatov called the tune in possession; the assurance rubbed off on his team-mates, while two goals and the assist for Kacaniklic spoke for his cutting edge.
Fulham were dreadful in defence, however, and it was a day when plenty was turned upside down, not least the perception of Giroud who, after a slow start in London, has begun to demonstrate his worth.