Fulham beats 10-man Arsenal 2-1 with late goals

Stunned by two late Fulham goals to open 2012 with a defeat,

Arsenal’s defensive frailties are an unwelcome carry-over for

Arsene Wenger’s side into the new year.

A 2-1 loss at Craven Cottage with 10 men, having led for most of

Monday’s match, saw the injury-hit Gunners concede fourth place in

the Premier League to Chelsea.

Wenger, though, singled out opposition tactics, absentees and

refereeing decisions rather than attributing any blame to his

players for the late collapse following Johan Djourou’s 78th-minute

sending off.

Wenger claimed the Fulham players were working to get Djourou –

part of Arsenal’s makeshift defense – sent off following his first

booking midway through the second half for fouling Moussa Dembele

in the 63rd.

They succeeded, in Wenger’s view, when Bobby Zamora was pulled

back by Djourou and referee Lee Probert produced a second yellow

card. Seven minutes later, Steve Sidwell headed Fulham level and

Zamora produced a stoppage time winner.

”The referee influenced the game in completely the wrong way in

my opinion,” Wenger said. ”We cannot influence that. We had a

good first half and in the second half we were tired in the last 10

minutes. We lost the game because we were down to 10 men. The first

yellow card was not a yellow card. The second yellow card was a

foul for us.”

”The moment Djourou got the first yellow card, they tried every

time to get him a second yellow,” the Frenchman added. ”The

referee was naive enough to give it.”

The result leaves Arsenal a point behind Chelsea, which won at

Wolverhampton Wanderers to stake its claim to the final Champions

League spot entering the second half of the season.

”It was a massive missed opportunity,” said Wenger, whose team

has not won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup. ”But we have

consistent problems to face.”

Going into the match, two days after beating Queens Park

Rangers, Arsenal was without any fit full backs, with midfielder

Francis Coquelin drafted in after Thomas Vermaelen joined the

defensive casualty list on Saturday.

”We are short,” Wenger said. ”We have lost three left backs

and two right backs.”

It was Fulham’s defense, though, that initially was more

vulnerable. Aaron Ramsey’s cross deflected off Stephen Kelly before

falling for Koscielny to head in his first goal since February 2010

in the 21st minute.

It took David Stockdale’s fine saves to deny Arsenal a second a

minute later. Robin van Persie came close again for Arsenal in the

32nd, slipping in a shot from Coquelin’s cross but Stockdale kept

hold of the ball.

Fulham gradually began to assert itself after preventing Arsenal

from extending the lead, with John Arne Riise causing the visitors

the most trouble down the left flank and Clint Dempsey looking

dangerous.

The equalizer was proving elusive, though. Philippe Senderos

headed wide at the end of the first half and missed the target

again after the break when Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny

misjudged Danny Murphy’s cross.

Dempsey was the next to miss from Bryan Ruiz’s cross, rising

above Per Mertesacker before nodding wide from six yards

(meters).

Fulham’s threat only intensified as Arsenal wilted, with Ruiz

denied from point-blank range in the 75th by Szczesny’s legs as he

was diving.

With the numerical advantage, the equalizer finally did arrive

when former Arsenal players combined.

Szczesny pushed a corner out to Senderos, who nodded the ball

back to Sidwell to head home. And in stoppage time Zamora found the

space to squeeze home the winner after Sebastien Squillaci’s headed

clearance of Kelly’s cross fell short.

The victory came less than two weeks after being routed 5-0 at

Craven Cottage by Manchester United.

”We want to do well – the Manchester United game wasn’t like us

at home,” Zamora said. ”But the togetherness and resilience of

the boys has shown tonight.”