There were some encouraging signs for little Fulham as the Cottagers traveled across London to meet the Premier League leaders. After an opening 10 minutes or so when Rene Meulensteen’s side couldn’t find the ball, Fulham managed the Emirates heavyweights fairly well before the break.
Some things got a little, uh, “loose” in the second half, but again, it was a performance they could build on. There were things Fulham fans can like from Saturday.
Unfortunately, Clint Dempsey’s performance wasn’t among them.
Dempsey played in the “hole” behind striker Dimitar Berbatov, and the second guessing immediately commenced. Would Pajtim Kasami perhaps been a more effective fit in a game where the visitors were always bound to be chasing the ball? I suppose we’ll never know.
Berbatov managed to crowd the space a few times where Dempsey would operate (in addition to slowing down a few counter attacks). But it’s all nitpicking at some point, as this was always a tough order.
It was especially a tall task for Dempsey, who has never done particularly well against Arsene Wenger’s club. This was his 13 appearance, in fact, and the U.S. attacker is still looking for his first goal. (Arsenal is one of the few PL teams, in fact, against which Dempsey has not scored.)
Dempsey clearly isn’t fit, and not surprisingly so. He showed up only late in December, and with so many matches for Fulham lately the full training sessions have been few. This was the fifth Fulham match for which the important U.S. man was available, having last been on the bench but unused in the mid-week FA Cup victory.
There were times when Dempsey looked labored or slow Saturday. Again, that’s not shocking. This is Arsenal, after all, well-organized and highly talented. With Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mathieu Flamini buzzing around the center of the park, a lot of players might look slow.
Dempsey did get into a few good positions Saturday, and that was encouraging. On the other hand, the confidence has yet to arrive, as evidenced by his usual choice to pass up shooting opportunities once into those positions.
Next up for Fulham: A fourth-round FA Cup opportunity against Sheffield United, a big match for the Cottagers.