Just before the news that shocked the football world to its very core, Arsenal were due to strut their ever-increasingly unimpressive stuff at home to Fulham Athletic.
The team that Mikel Arteta named was drastically different than everyone had been expecting, especially after Arsenal’s recent 0-4 win over Slavia Prague. Bernd Leno, Calum Chambers, Pablo Marí, Thomas Partey and Nicolas Pépé were all unceremoniously dropped in favour of some of the more fringe players to give them some game time.
Given Arsenal’s upcoming match against Everton on Friday night and the crunch Europa League semi-final tie with Villarreal the following Thursday, the tactical strategy made sense.
The game started fairly well for Arsenal, with plenty of chances being created. Though Arsenal failed to actually put any in the back of the net, there was plenty that happened to give Arsenal confidence moving forward.
The team struggled to actually open the scoring however, with the Fulham defence as resolute as ever, given how different they are from their opening day thrashing from the Gunners.
Finally, Arsenal seemed to break the deadlock! An expert cross from the right flank from Héctor Bellerín was met expertly by Dani Ceballos to grab his first-ever Premier League goal, only for the goal to be disappointingly ruled out by VAR. It seemed to be the thinest of margins and Arsenal had every right to enter half-time a little hard done by.
However, Arsenal never really seemed to recover. Fulham found their way back into the game and a somewhat soft penalty courtesy of summer signing Gabriel Magalhães was expertly dispatched by Josh Maja to give Fulham the lead.
Arsenal struggled to create from there. The constant misplacing of passing was a frustratingly prevalent feature of the team’s play and the injury sustained by Alexandre Lacazette did very little to lighten the mood.
Despite their posturing, Arsenal were simply unable to draw level, despite several good chances. Eventually, in the dying embers of the match, Arsenal had a corner.
It’s always comical whenever goalkeepers venture upfield for corners and this was no different as Maty Ryan pushed upfield, however, when his header produced a desperate scramble in the box for a shot to be parried into Eddie Nketiah’s path for the equaliser, no one was laughing then.
The final whistle blew out on a disappointed Scott Parker and no doubt embarrassed Mikel Arteta.
While the post-match press conference featured for some awkward questions about a European Super League that Arteta had very clearly not been briefed about beforehand, the performance seemed to fall at Arteta’s door.
The team selection seemed arrogantly self-assured and seemed to do nothing for the team’s fortunes. Maty Ryan gave a good account of himself once more, but why on earth Bernd Leno was ever dropped from the starting eleven remains to be seen. Another poor performance from Héctor Bellerín did not justify the decision to drop Calum Chambers and Gabriel Magalhães’ penalty incident seemed to leave questions as to whyPablo Marí was dropped as well.
While it can be argued that focus is being reserved for more important matches, this was an equally essential game to win as well! Two points dropped at home to a relegation candidate will not go down well in the cold light of day.
Mohamed Elneny’s performance seemed to be a reversion to type from the Egyptian as well. Capable of stunningly heartful and energetic performances one week and then back to plain and rigid mediocrity for the next six, it’s difficult for Arsenal fans to not lose patience with the midfielder, for whom every pass seems to go sideways or backwards and who was seen constantly demanding the ball from teammates despite his poor positioning.
The substitutions that Arteta introduced were equally disappointing as the Spaniard again left things far too late in the game. Though the subs themselves had a good impact, Arsenal fans were again left stunned that such changes had taken so long to impliment.
The focus now returns to the Premier League with one eye on the Europa League too, and although Arsenal are now out of the proposed European Super League, fans are justified to look at this performance and ask why on earth they were ever invited in the first place.
33.) Maty Ryan
2.) Héctor Bellerín (Pépé 68′)
16.) Rob Holding
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
34.) Granit Xhaka
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Partey 68′)
8.) Dani Ceballos
7.) Bukayo Saka
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Nketiah 70′)
1.) Bernd Leno
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
17.) Cédric Soares
18.) Thomas Partey
24.) Reiss Nelson
19.) Nicolas Pépé
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Fulham Athletic team:
1.) Alphonse Areola
34.) Ola Aina
5.) Joachim Andersen (c)
16.) Tosin Adarabiyo
33.) Antonee Robinson
14.) Bobby De Cordova-Reid
29.) André-Frank Zambo Anguissa
18.) Mario Lemina
19.) Ademola Lookman (Reed 69’)
27.) Josh Maja (Loftus-Cheek 77’)
17.) Ivan Cavaleiro (Bryan 84’)
Fulham Athletic subs:
3.) Michael Hector
13.) Tim Ream
23.) Joe Bryan
4.) Denis Odoi
15.) Ruben Loftus-Cheek
21.) Harrison Reed
25.) Josh Onomah
9.) Alexander Mitrović