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Gunners scrape past ten man Fulham

GET IN!: Unlikely Arsenal goal scorer Per Mertersacker (right) celebrates with his team mates

THE REFEREE started the game the same way he ended it, as he showed two red cards in Arsenal's 1-0 win against Fulham at Craven Cottage.

It was a far from spectacular win by Arsenal, but they won't mind as they take the three points back to north London, as they continue their aim of reaching the Champions League for the 16th season running.

The game didn't really start until the first red card was shown with both sides looking slightly apprehensive. Maybe it was the shock of playing in the sun. Steve Sidwell lasted only 12 minutes after returning from a three-game suspension before he was sent off for a cynical foul on visiting captain Mikel Arteta.

The referee had no hesitation and had the red card in his hand before either player had even returned to their feet. The home fans were not happy and reminded Andre Marriner throughout the following 78 minutes that he may not know exactly how to do his job.

Martin Jol was probably spot on when he said Sidwell's tackle wasn't malicious, but like many red-card tackles it does look worse with each replay you see. The problem is, the former Arsenal midfielder's last suspension was for a very similar tackle so his manager may have a word in his ear on the quiet.

Somewhat bizarrely, Fulham actually started playing better once they were a man down and you wondered if it was going to be one of those days for Arsene Wenger's team. Yet much like their game against Chelsea on Wednesday, the home side lacked any real ingenuity to break through Arsenal's erratic defence.

The home side's best chance had come in the 20th minute when Wojiech Szczesny saved dow to his left from Berbatov, unfortunately they were unable to capitalise on that surge forward.

This was shown, as Dimitar Berbatov got increasingly frustrated with his teammates, particularly Kieran Richardson, who failed to reach the Bulgarian with a cross three consecutive times. All the Cottagers good work came down their right as they exploited the space occasionally left by January signing Nacho Monreal, on his return to the side.

Arsenal's goal came from a surprise combination two minutes before half-time as Laurent Koscielny set the chance up for Per Mertersacker. The 'Big Friendly German' as Arsenal fans call him, was there to help his fellow central defenders knock-down over the line, after the Frenchman had headed Theo Walcott's free-kick.

Fulham finally got the ball in the net in the 78th minute through Stanislac Manolev after the forward was deemed offside following Kieran Richardson's free-kick. Sian Massey was spot-on with the call, although it didn't come quick enough for the fans in white who had already started celebrating before they heard the whistle.

The goal was the least they deserved as Arsenal become more impotent as the clock ran down and appeared to just be doing enough to get the win at the home of their London neighbours. As the game wore on you would think the visitors were the team with ten men as they had the majority of possession.

It was clear the team in red and white were rattled, as goalkeeper Szczesny took a leisurely amount of time to distribute the ball after catching a Fulham cross five minutes before time. But more by luck than skill, the visitors managed to hold onto their lead and repel everything Fulham threw into the box.

It was the Cottagers pressing that forced Olivier Giroud into a sloppy challenge on Manolev, which was virtually identical to Sidwell's. The referee had no choice but to send him off. It may do Wenger a favour as it will give the Frenchman the rest that he appears to need as the season draws to a close.

The home side also had further chances through Urby Emanuelson and Berbatov as the clock ticked down but the latter could only send his shot over the bar with only Szczesny to beat in virtually the last kick of the game.

The win lifts Arsenal back to third, with Chelsea and Tottenham facing Liverpool and Manchester City, respectively on Sunday.

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