Fulham 0-1 Arsenal: Mannone Masterclass Ensures Arsenal Victory
Robin van Persie let his football do the talking with a well-executed second-half winner as Arsenal beat Fulham 1-0 at Craven Cottage – where young Gunners goalkeeper Vito Mannone had an inspired match.
The Dutchman grabbed the pre-match headlines when weighing into the diving debate by admitting he does sometimes exaggerate his reaction to fouls.
However, there was nothing false about his finish this afternoon, as van Persie latched onto a defence-splitting pass from captain Cesc Fabregas to net what proved to be the winning goal on 52 minutes.
Arsenal, though, had rookie stopper Mannone to thank for securing the points with a string of fine saves as Fulham were left frustrated.
With Chelsea having lost at Wigan, Arsene Wenger’s men – beaten at both Manchester United and Manchester City – had a chance to close the gap at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
The Gunners started positively, with Bacary Sagna sending over a deep cross from the right which defender Thomas Vermaelen – their leading scorer so far – headed wide.
However, Mannone was soon called into action when Clint Dempsey created space for a shot at the edge of the Arsenal penalty area.
Fulham were forced into an early change after just nine minutes when Damien Duff hobbled off, replaced by Zoltan Gera.
The home side continued to knock the ball about well – and almost snatched the lead on 15 minutes.
Gera whipped the ball over, and Andrew Johnson’s bullet header was brilliantly palmed away by Mannone – who also somehow kept out the rebound from Dempsey at point-blank range.
Fabregas fired just over after good work from van Persie, who combined with Fabregas to play in Arshavin, but the Russian was always stretching as his 10-yard effort flew high into the stands.
Nicklas Bendtner tested Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer with a low drive from the edge of the area.
There was little respite for the visitors, though, as Fulham were soon back on the offensive, quickly closing down any space.
Gera flashed a shot across goal, which Mannone got a hand to, after being played in on the right by Johnson.
Fulham looked to continue where they had left off following the restart, as Bobby Zamora flashed a 20-yard drive wide.
Arsenal, though, showed more determination, with Arshavin creating problems down the left.
Then, out of nothing, the visitors snatched the lead on 52 minutes, after Paul Konchesky’s upfield pass was cut out and fed to Fabregas.
The Spain midfielder waited, before chipping an exquisite pass which split the centre-backs on the edge of the area, where van Persie arrived on queue to kill the ball with his left foot, before guiding a fine low strike into the far corner with his right.
After such a positive opening, Craven Cottage was stunned as the atmosphere fell flat.
It was almost 2-0 when Bendtner flashed the ball across goal, which Schwarzer beat away.
Fulham then broke quickly through Zamora down the right, and his centre was glanced goalwards by Johnson – only for Mannone to produce another stunning save at full stretch before again denying Dempsey at the far post.
Just past the hour, Bendtner charged forwards to the edge of the Fulham box, but scuffed his shot.
Fulham came agonisingly close to an equaliser when Dempsey’s drive deflected off Sagna and onto the post.
Then, Gallas produced a brilliant block to deny Zamora.
On 77 minutes, Mannone did well to turn away another effort from Johnson before the inspired Italian then kept out Zamora’s downward header.
Bendtner had a couple of half-chances late on, and although Wenger was less than impressed by the five minutes of injury-time, during which substitute Emmanuel Eboue flashed wide when clean through, the Gunners boss was more than happy with the result when the final whistle eventually came.