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View From The North Bank: Arsenal 1 Fulham 1

Arsenal’s impressive run of six straight league wins had to come to an end at some point. We might not have expected that streak to be broken at home to Fulham but that’s Football. In the grand scheme of things, a drawn Football match isn’t the end of the world.

Wenger only made two changes to the side that beat Dortmund, replacing Koscielny and Gervinho with Djourou and Arshavin. Team selection at a time like this is a tricky business. On the face of it, it makes sense to let the players that worked so hard to secure our Champions League progress carry that momentum on however, we saw on Saturday that our first half performance suffered as a result of exertions in midweek.

Part of the problem is that we currently only have limited scope for rotation. So many of our players can’t be left out either because their form makes them indispensible or because we don’t have anyone fit to replace them. If you take our midfield three as an example, they have been more or less ever present since Arteta arrived in North London. This game would have been an ideal situation to leave one or more of them out however Rosicky is nursing a knock and Diaby is only just back in first team contention.

There is also the issue of Tuesday night’s Carling Cup engagement. I had hoped we would put out a strong side as, let’s face it, even if City start with 11 different players to those that drew at Liverpool yesterday, they’re still going to be a tough proposition. This weekend’s selection would suggest that key players may get a rest with the likes of Chamakh and Benayoun given a chance to impress. Abou Diaby would be a valuable addition to the midfield however reports of a further setback have cropped up meaning we might have to do without him again. If this proves to be true it will be yet another disappointment for the team and the player.

The side that did make it out against Fulham looked short of energy and spark in the first period. Fulham had obviously come to frustrate – no real surprise there – and we were all too easily caught up in the midfield battle. It seemed like one of those nights where an early goal was imperative. Unfortunately, an early goal wasn’t forthcoming.

The deadlock was eventually broken by an own goal from Thomas Vermaelen. It came as the result of sloppy passing out of defence. Santos was typically cool and poked a short pass to Arteta who casually tried to flick it round the corner and start a swift counter attack. The attempted pass was tame and was intercepted by the Fulham midfield. The ball was then floated into our box where Vermaelen stretched to take it off of Zamora’s toe unfortunately managing to guide it past Szczesny and into the net.

Despite our lethargy I don’t think we deserved to be chasing the game but, with 25 minutes left on the clock, that’s what we found ourselves doing. Van Persie had an attempt cleared off the line, penalty appeals were turned away and Theo jinked and probed down the right. We had to wait until the 82nd minute for the deserved equaliser. Walcott gave yet another left back a tough time and floated in a delicious cross. Vermaelen rose and headed emphatically past Schwarzer; a keeper who always seems to play out of his skin at The Emirates.

They say that fortune favours the brave and Vermaelen’s desire to influence the game at both ends goes some way to proving that. Another honourable mention for Theo who looks to be growing into the type of wing play we’d all seen him threaten for the last couple of years. For a player who supposedly doesn’t have a final ball, that was his fourth assist of the season – a figure comparable to Lampard, Nani or Aguero and better than Rooney or Suarez. Of course, all these players operate in different roles but it’s at least a useful tool to challenge the idea that Walcott “doesn’t have a Football brain”.

We were left with just a point from a game we should have won however, a draw is rarely cause for major concern especially if you’ve managed to come from behind. Events which came to light later in the weekend mean that it seems rather pointless to debate whether we should be satisfied with a point or not.

I turned on the radio on Sunday morning hoping to soak up some post match reaction. The casual chit-chat about who got the best out of the weekend was immediately forgotten when the news came through of Gary Speed’s untimely passing. I, like anyone else with even the remotest connection to Football, was stunned.

My first reaction to this tragic news seems to have been echoed throughout the world of Football. Regardless of whether he represented your club there was a universal acceptance that he was a first class professional and ambassador for our game. Gary Speed is exactly the sort of player, and person, who fans love. He was incredibly talented – he possessed one of the finest left feet ever to grace English Football –and had an unshakeable commitment to giving the best for his team. It is certainly not an overstatement to say that we have lost a legend of the Premier League era. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at a time of unimaginable sadness.

Gary Speed 1969 – 2011.

Keep The Faith