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Sidwell costs Fulham against Arsenal

Midfielder gets sent off for second consecutive game, leaving his side with a mountain that just couldn't be climbed.

Mike Hewitt

There was an eerie sense of inevitability when I opened up the newspaper this morning to find Glenn Moore waxing lyrical about the leniency of Premier League referees.

It would be easy to blame him, tempting fate as he did, for Steve Sidwell's twelfth-minute sending off but, in truth, it was all the midfielder's doing. And, as hard as it is to criticise a player who has been so religiously solid for Fulham ever since joining from Aston Villa in 2011, he cost Fulham the game. There is little room for argument there.

What is arguable, though, is how much Arsenal had earned this 1-0 victory. They weren't sharp, or fluid, or any combination thereof. They just happened to stumble across a ginger man who is fast creating a knack for the ridiculous.

Fulham, meanwhile, with their 1-man-inferiority, played superbly, devoting themselves to a tactical plan that was well established and equally well executed, even with only ten men. It wasn't quite containment but it certainly wasn't all-out-attack. We just picked at Arsenal's weaknesses, as any good side would do.

Only a smattering of misfortune, a lump of silliness and a sprinkle of poor finishing cost us here, when something far more substantial and far more impressive could have unfolded.

Arsenal had the ball in the net within minutes of the game's start but Theo Walcott was correctly judged offside, having strayed a yard beyond the defender. His finish was cute but nonetheless irrelevant.

Yet, the next event couldn't have been any more relevant. Fresh back from his three match ban, Sidwell slid in late on Mikel Arteta and scraped the Spaniards ankle. Only one foot had left the ground but recklessness was prevalent. Sidwell fully deserved his second red in two games.

But the disadvantage was difficult to note, as Fulham pressed, prodded and probed a notoriously weak Gunners back line. Dimitar Berbatov had a powerful effort palmed away at the near post by Wojciech Szczesny after some wonderful work from Urby Emanuelson. The Dutchman was brilliant yet again, confirming the deepest held thoughts that he is, indeed, a world class player, more-than-capable of gracing the AC Milan squad from whence he came.

Olivier Giroud almost silenced the home crowd who, in spite of Sidwell's dismissal, were sensing an upset. The forward's shot dragged onto the post, though, much to the relief of a flailing Mark Schwarzer.

It would, again, be a set piece that would eventually undo Fulham, though, just before the half time interval. Laurent Koscielny got his head to a Gunners free-kick, sending it across to the six yard box where it was welcomed by Per Mertesacker. He nodded into an empty net.

The second period was more positive for Martin Jol's men and yet, in the same breath, more passive. The home side were clearly pushing for an equaliser but, despite consistent pressure, never really felt like getting it. Stanoslev Manolev, who was respectable at right back, filling in for Sascha Riether, over-hit a cross, forcing Szczesny into a smart save but that was about as good as it got.

Brede Hangeland had to step in on Santi Corzola, stopping the Spaniard from putting the game beyond doubt in the closing stages but, really, the game was beyond doubt the moment Sidwell eyed up his lunge.

Arsenal were dealt a sending off too, Giroud replicating the ankle-high nonsensicalness we had only witnessed over an hour before, but it didn't affect a thing, coming in the 90th minute.

There were positives to take from this defeat - Eyong Enoh being one - but sometimes, mountains are too high to climb. Especially if Steve Sidwell is trying to help you up.