Wenger has a list of penalty-takers, says Arsenal's Olivier Giroud

Wenger

Olivier Giroud wanted to take the injury-time penalty.

"Yeah, I was confident," the striker said, and who could doubt him? The £13m summer signing from Montpellier had enjoyed his finest game in an Arsenal shirt, his couple of misses comfortably offset by his two goals and all-round power.

He was even his team's best defender, making a clutch of clearing headers on set pieces, although nobody at the back could lay claim to a modicum of credit. One other thing: aren't centre-forwards supposed to take penalties? We all know what happened next. Mikel Arteta, still smarting from conceding the 67th-minute penalty from which Fulham had taken a 3-2 lead, grabbed the ball and sized up the potentially match-winning last kick.

But Mark Schwarzer, in the Fulham goal, dived to produce an athletic save. "I would love to be able to jump like that when I'm 40 ... I'm struggling now," said his team-mate Chris Baird, 30.

Giroud might have been the hat-trick hero but his burgeoning self-belief did not extend to him over-riding the pre-match instructions of his manager, Arsène Wenger. "Some guys have asked me why I didn't take the ball but it's like that before the game ... the boss has a list of penalty-takers," Giroud said. "It's very difficult because Mikel was under pressure. In the last minute, it's not very easy to shoot a penalty. We need to concede fewer goals because it's too difficult to win if we concede a lot of goals."

Giroud's final comment vied with a choice cut from Wenger for the understatement of the day. "The belief is not at its maximum at the moment," he said. It was shocking to witness his team's fragility, which gripped from the moment that Dimitar Berbatov ambled into space in the six-yard box to head Fulham's first goal from Bryan Ruiz's corner.

There was a time when a 2-0 Arsenal lead meant the end of the game. No longer. Schalke came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in the Champions League last Tuesday and Fulham went one better before Giroud pegged them back, as they profited from Arsenal's collective timidity that was exacerbated by individual errors.

It is unlikely the goalkeeper Vito Mannone will play again for a while, given that Wojciech Szczesny is back to fitness and was in Saturday's match-day squad. Mannone could be particularly embarrassed by his failure to keep out Alex Kacaniklic's 12-yard header – but one worry was that this was hardly a patched-up XI. The only other certain starters who missed out were the injured Kieran Gibbs and the suspended Jack Wilshere. Thomas Vermaelen endured another uncomfortable 90 minutes at left-back, which led to more muttering about whether he is feeling the weight of the captaincy, yet his toils were reflected across the backline. It was also alarming to see Arteta and the substitute Aaron Ramsey being robbed in dangerous areas.

"It is a concern because we looked quite solid defensively until now and against Fulham we looked very fragile," Wenger said. "I put that down to the fact that at 2-0 up, instead of becoming more aggressive, we became a bit easier; rather than continuing to push forward, to close them down. We let them play, and that was a big problem for us."

Fulham's contribution to a thrilling game owed everything to Berbatov and Ruiz, who floated deep and wide, and could not be pinned down. Berbatov called the tune in possession like a policeman on point duty; the assurance rubbed off on his team-mates, while two goals and the assist for Kacaniklic spoke for his cutting edge.

Ruiz, who won his team's penalty after picking Arteta's pocket was, like Berbatov, gloriously keen to show his skills. His directness frightened Arsenal. "He will never lay it square and there are not a lot of other No10s that could do that," said his manager, Martin Jol. It feels like an extension of Ruiz's non-conformist streak that he has his christian name on the back of his shirt. Dimitar ought to follow suit.

Fulham were dreadful in defence, as well, and it was a day when plenty was turned upside down, not least the perception of Giroud who, after a slow start in London, has begun to demonstrate his worth.

"When I didn't score at the beginning of the season, I stayed confident," Giroud said. "I always work on my mind and my game. Individual mistakes are hurting us and that's why we have to show solidarity. It's a bad run but there is a lot of quality in this team. We will have better days ahead."

Man of the match Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by David Hytner, for The Guardian on Monday 12th November 2012 02.11 Europe/London

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image: © Matt and Kim Rudge

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