Don't get me wrong, I've been surprised by Eboue's recent form in pre-season and have to say that he had one of best games against West Brom last Saturday. However, to play the defensive midfield position requires a certain discipline and positional sense. The central midfield partnership is one that needs to gel well in order for the team to play well, it's the engine room. The creation starts from the middle and the defenders are protected by their midfield.
The Toure-Gallas partnership was restored today and the same questions have to be asked defensively. Can these two players play together? Do they compliment each other or is their lack of physical presence a problem for us? Djourou and Senderos do seem to be better in the air, but Toure and Gallas have experience in abundance. It's a tough one. Toure was substituted for Song today, does that mean that Toure isn't fit? Why didn't Djourou come on, especially after his good performance the week before? Questions that can only be answered by Arsene. There is a little bit of worry in me about what's going on. Too much change and not enough focus on the targets in hand. We need a defensive midfielder, without a doubt. We do have Cesc and Diaby to come back and when both fit, they will make a huge difference. The tenacious expose of Flamini is much missed and potentially only Diaby will fit the bill.
The game lined up as follows:
Sagna – Toure – Gallas – Clichy
Walcott – Eboue – Denilson – Nasri
Adebayor – Van Persie
After Ade’s lacklustre performance against West Brom last week, many people thought he may be rested with Bendtner taking his place, but Ade started and continued in his 2006 form, which as we all know wasn’t that great.
Brede Hangeland scored the only goal of the game for a Fulham side which looked decent, but a side we should have beaten. A Jimmy Bullard cross wasn’t handled by the defence and the giant Fulham defender stabbed home what turned out to be the winner.
Arsene has a few quotes after the game, and the first was:
“They had a corner and they took advantage from it. That illustrates the first half. We were not sharp enough. We were not first enough on the ball. The corner showed that and we were punished. When you are focussed you can stop them scoring like that from the middle of the goal.”
Early on, John Pantsil challenged Eboue and was lucky to escape a red card on a day where Fulham adopted the physical approach and we seemed fazed by it. It was one of those games where we were so lacklustre, it’s hard to pick out individual moments where we were close. It was an inevitable miss every time we went forward, with Ade missing everything possible. Van Persie still seemed rusty. Theo Walcott looked strangely subdued and our midfield definitely wasn’t firing on any cylinder. Young Samir Nasri was again impressive, and that’s definitely a positive note. Our substitutes were Bendtner for Walcott, Song for Toure.
“After that we tried to come back in the second half but I feel we were too nervous in the last 25 minutes and wanted to create on our own rather than keeping our vision around the box. That is we missed a lot today. We lacked a bit more quality in our passing. We you look at the possession we had and what we did with it that is always a sign it is only down power but vision and technical quality. That was there today. I don’t know why. You have to credit to Fulham as well. You need to keep a balance. When I brought on Bendtner we already had Van Persie, Nasri and Adebayor. You needed to win the ball back so you needed to keep three midfielders.”
And finally Arsene talked about the defensive mistakes and the focus on Wednesday.
“It was the kind of game where you could not afford to make a mistake and we made a massive one. It was a game where if you get to half-time at 0-0 then you would win the game. That is the biggest regret I have. The result is there and we have to cope with it. We have a big game on Wednesday night and we have to respond with a top class performance because was we did today was just not good enough.”
A few issues to be resolved, a few questions to be asked… Arsene, a few days to think hard before the transfer window closes… a few days for Ade to get his sharpness back. Maybe the 31st August (now 1st Sept) will be a useful point to know who’s in and who’s out and what we have to do this season…