Arsenal managed to edge out 1-0 at Fulham courtesy of a resolute performance from Vito Mannone and an equally decisive strike from Van Persie.
Today, Wenger’s men were rich of three things which have proved their shortcomings this season; an “ugly” style to sneak wins in uncomfortable games, an inspiring contribution from the goalkeeper and of course, some fortune.
Add to that clinical finishing from Van Persie, and Arsenal prevailed at Craven Cottage.
Just when Wenger needed a back-up goalkeeper to step up, Mannone won the match in goal. When Arsenal had been warned of being too “soft” going into a gritty away fixture, the Gunners responded by winning in “ugly” fashion. And on a rare day when Chelsea were humbled, Arsenal mustered maximum points to make up ground in the title race.
Maybe, just maybe, Wenger’s boys are finally giving the answers.
The boss did not spring too many surprises with his selection other than omitting Eduardo from today’s squad. The Croatian was mysteriously missing but present was Andrey Arshavin while Eboue sat out for Bendtner.
Arsenal were relieved twice in the opening 15 minutes. Fulham lost new signing and expert game-changer Damien Duff to injury before Mannone denied Johnson’s net-bound header and blocked Dempsey’s rebound from inches out.
Fabregas fired well over from close range and then orchestrated a fine move for Arshavin who – through Hughes’ clumsy tackle – also shot wide off goal from a few yards out.
The game was crying for goal at this point and Fulham nearly changed matters when Gera smashed a low effort towards Mannone’s near post, but Arsenal’s Italian somehow tipped the ball away.
The visitors’ goalkeeper had been kept busier all day and despite the rest of momentum at half-time, Mannone was called into action by Zamora on two occasions early in the second half.
But if it was a contest of who could convert better in front of goal, Arsenal were always likely to have the upper hand and proved so after 52 minutes. Fabregas sent in one of his clever chips from midfield and it found Van Persie who pounced and stroke the ball lowly into the far corner of the net with his weaker foot.
That was vintage Van Persie in attack and there was vintage Mannone in defense moments later when the Italian let Arsenal off the hook yet again by diving at full stretch to parry away Zamora’s goal-bound header. Dempsey could have still punished with a rebound but the American’s effort luckily sniffed the face of goal and went wide.
Arshavin – back from an injury lay-off – was still working on his sharpness so a sharper fit-again man in Rosicky was introduced after 68 minutes.
As if he had not done enough salvaging, Mannone pulled off yet a couple of sensational saves late on. First he managed to meet a tricky low shot from Johnson and in the dying minutes, the young stopper was the only man certain Zamora would not score when Fulham’s striker pounced on a free-kick.
Van Persie’s late replacement Emmanuel Eboue was teed up in injury time and shot tamely at goal. But had that effort been better and added some gloss to the scoreline, you could hardly deny Vito Mannone the credit as today’s match winner.