Adebayor on song

Arsenal had most of the ball, almost all of the chances, and in Emmanuel Adebayor a player so dominant over his direct opponents, writes Duncan Castles.

It was a brutal afternoon to be a Fulham defender, or one of their supporters — painful not just in the magnitude of defeat but the manner of it. Firmly ensconced in the relegation mire and now without a win in 12 matches, they will appreciate not seeing Arsenal or Emmanuel Adebayor again this season, though their chances of meeting either again next are steadily diminishing.

Arsenal had most of the ball, almost all of the chances, and in Adebayor a player so dominant over his direct opponents. By half-time the African had decided the game, twice rising to meet crosses with a distance and height between himself and his supposed markers that is rarely seen in Premier League football. Tomas Rosicky embellished the win to keep his elegant team joint top of the table.

Fulham have done little of late but prove how one panicked decision can send a club spiralling downwards. Sacking Chris Coleman at the tail end of last season was ill thought out, all the more so when a replacement had not been identified. Appointed almost as an afterthought when Sven-Goran Eriksson’s agent suggested one of his other clients, Lawrie Sanchez steadily alienated players and supporters with his authoritarian manner and agricultural game plans.

Top-flight status secured more by Liverpool’s disinterest in a pre-Champions League Final fixture than their own endeavours, Fulham failed to cut their losses on Sanchez in the close season, instead allowing him to spend more money than he had the sense to handle restructuring their squad. By the time he was sacked and replaced with Roy Hodgson, Fulham were adrift in the drop zone and dependent on another rebuild.

There were no new acquisitions — bought but not registered in time, Norway defender Brede Hangeland watched from the stands, while Marlon King’s £5million transfer from Watford had been stalled on medical grounds. Instead, Hodgson tried to improvise, anchoring Alexey Smertin in a five-man midfield that left Clint Dempsey alone in attack. Arsene Wenger stuck with a forward line of Eduardo and Adebayor and the early stages followed a predictable course.

Fulham opened with pace and organisation, allowing Arsenal little room to create, but threatening little themselves beyond a Danny Murphy long shot and a brace of dead balls. The visitors, well accustomed to this particular script, stayed patient, working their training-ground triangles across the pitch and themselves steadily closer to goal.

It appeared a matter of time, and it was. On 19 minutes, Rosicky’s clever lob allowed Gael Clichy to sprint to the touchline and volley back to the six-yard box. There, Adebayor dismissed the efforts of two defenders to clear and redirected the ball to the far corner.

Pattern established, Arsenal’s dominance grew. Adebayor lofted a Cesc Fabregas through ball marginally over the bar before reprising his aerial advantage. Mathieu Flamini instigated the goal, sliding to stop a Fulham counter at source and release Alexander Hleb. The winger’s cross pitched Adebayor against Moritz Volz and Aaron Hughes — a contest comfortably won by the Togolese and irrecoverable for Antti Niemi.

In a rare home attack, Murphy clipped a shot over the bar but a goal would have been ill-deserved. Hodgson’s half-time response was to add Jimmy Bullard to his midfield in the hope of discovering the kind of creativity Arsenal were demonstrating in abundance. Bacary Sagna, Eduardo and Rosicky all sent shots skittering across Niemi’s posts; Fulham were making more impact on knee and nose of Fabregas and Philippe Senderos than on Manuel Almunia’s goal. When Dempsey managed to net a linesman’s flag was raised. When Eduardo broke on the left to tee up Rosicky’s acrobatic third one was questionably absent and soon so were plenty of home fans. The way they are playing their team will soon be leaving early, too.

THE RESULTS

January 20: Manchester City 1 (Vassell 16) drew with West Ham 1 (Cole 8). Half-time: 1-1; Wigan 1 (Jagielka o.g. 53) lost to Everton 2 (Johnson 39, Lescott 42). Half-time: 0-2.

January 19: Birmingham 0 lost to Chelsea 1 (Pizarro 79). Half-time: 0-0; Blackburn 1 (Derbyshire 75) drew with Middlesbrough 1 (Wheater 13). Half-time: 0-1; Fulham 0 lost to Arsenal 3 (Adebayor 19 & 38, Rosicky 81). Half-time: 0-2; Newcastle 0 drew with Bolton 0; Portsmouth 3 (Benjani 38, 42 & 55) bt Derby 1 (Nyatanga 4). Half-time: 2-1; Reading 0 lost to Manchester United 2 (Rooney 77, Ronaldo 90). Half-time: 0-0; Tottenham 2 (Lennon 2, Keane 90) bt Sunderland 0. Half-time: 1-0.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008