View From The North Bank: Fulham 2 Arsenal 1

The festive schedule is always hectic with games coming thick and fast. That said, even with our typically injury ravaged squad, the three games we had were reasonably favourable. Two home games against teams in the bottom half of the league followed by the trip to Fulham should have reaped a minimum of seven points. In the end we’ve come away with just four.

In light of other results at the top of the table, our inability to kill off each game means that an opportunity to firmly root ourselves in the top four has been missed.

I’ve written about it several times already this season so I won’t labour the point here but the number of chances we miss is criminal. We manufacture good openings every week but our finishing is often inaccurate or just too tame.

In all honesty, it’s not just the finishing that’s the problem. We often fail to even turn a good opening into a clear goal scoring opportunity. Yesterday it was Gervinho who was the chief culprit. There is little doubt that he’s a talented player – he’s caused almost every team he’s played against serious problems – but he seems to either lack the confidence or the presence of mind to consistently make good on the opportunities he creates. Too often he dwells and dribbles into a position where defenders can crowd him out.

Of course, it was shaky defending which meant Fulham could come back and claim the three points. You can blame Szczesny, Squillaci or point to Coquelin’s positioning on the second but in fairness to all of those, we shouldn’t have been under the sort of pressure Fulham mustered in the second half; they should have been dead and buried by then.

On the plus side, Coquelin had a pretty impressive game for a right footed central midfielder playing left back. He looks confident and determined and has a neat touch. There is a definite future for the young Frenchman. I hope for his sake that our full back problem is resolved and he’s afforded the chance to impress further in his natural position.

Despite our obvious deficiencies, any comment on this game wouldn’t be complete without a few words on the referee. Yet again we’ve had a decent penalty shout waved away. Wenger will no doubt be accused of whingeing after questioning the referee in his post match comments. I doubt anyone will take into account that his damning outburst was the result of cumulative frustration that has been building since we were denied a penalty and had a goal wrongly chalked off against City. Since then I can remember at least three other penalty shouts that didn’t go our way.

The referee should also have questions to answer on the dismissal of Djourou. I felt the second card was very harsh. I would argue whether an offence was even committed. Even if the ref does believe it was a foul did he have to give a yellow card there? Some referees seems to think that any indiscretion, no matter how trivial or unavoidable, is worthy of a caution.

Referee’s do a very hard job, I’m not contesting that for a minute. The problem that I have is that referee’s often seem to be making decisions which aren’t consistent with those of their colleagues. Each game that is played seems to be officiated differently. What one ref thinks is fine, another thinks is worthy of a card.

It extends beyond our matches too. Frank Lampard should have been sent off yesterday but was just given a yellow. Firstly, his foul was worse than anything that Djourou did. Secondly, had the referee in the Chelsea game responded as he should have, Lampard wouldn’t have been on the pitch to secure Chelsea three points that put them fourth and us fifth.

I fully understand that refs need to be able to exercise discretion and officiate according to the specific circumstances in each game but that still doesn’t justify why a late tackle half way up an opponents shin can ever be given the same punishment as a piece of run of the mill jostling.

My past few match reports, and the opening five paragraphs of this one, are evidence that I’m not blaming officials for all our problems, I’m just highlighting the fact that they are a variable over which we have no control who retain the ability to swing a game, a season even, one way or another. Video assistance may be useful for some things but the FA must also look at practical ways of improving the skills of the decision makers. I don’t think any referee in the Premier League is biased, I just think far too may of them simply aren’t up to the task.

So, we’re back to fifth albeit by the odd point. The fight for a place in the elite carries on and we are still reasonably placed. It would be wrong to assume that this defeat signals a significant landmark in our season, in truth it’s just another bump in a long road. From now we have a week to patch ourselves up to face Leeds. We might have Henry back by then. See, it’s not all bad.

Keep The Faith.