After last weekend’s dramatic win over Bournemouth, I was hoping for a less stressful Arsenal win when we visited Fulham yesterday – and that’s exactly what we got.
With Leandro Trossard back up front, and Gabriel Jesus on a very strong looking bench, the game began with the home side trying to press high and Arsenal dealing with it comfortably. That would be one of the stories of the afternoon.
It looked as if we’d gone ahead in the 16th minute when an excellent pass from Granit Xhaka found Gabriel Martinelli, and although Bernd Leno saved his effort, it went in off a defender for an own goal. The reprieve for Fulham came from VAR as Martinelli was adjudged to be offside as he received the ball.
As the away fans sang songs about how they felt about the technology, we turned it up a notch. Xhaka’s shot forced Leno into a save which gave us a corner. Trossard’s delivery was poor but we got another one, this time the Belgian put it on the head of Gabriel who headed home to make it 1-0.
William Saliba demonstrated the confidence he possesses by trying his luck from 30 yards, firing not too far over, and the centre-half was involved in an outstanding second goal too. Fulham tried to press us, we just played it around them with supreme confidence and positional awareness. When the opportunity came, Saliba switched it with a great left footed pass, Xhaka took it on, Trossard clipped up the cross, and Martinelli was there to head home. The defending was poor, but take nothing away from the quality of that Arsenal build-up.
At 2-0 it was comfortable enough, but you always want another to really make it tough for the opposition. Even if they do get one, you have that cushion. There were chances: Xhaka will have nightmares about not taking a shot first time after some superb one-touch creativity put him through with just Leno to beat; Trossard shot wide after wiggling his hips inside the Fulham box; and Leno saved from Martinelli after Ben White delivered a pinpoint left-footed cross to the back post.
It wasn’t that I was worried, per se, but when you see that many chances missed you can’t help but wonder if it might come back to bite you. Just before the break, we got the goal our performance deserved. Thomas Partey intercepted a poor throw-in, he fed Martinelli who gave it to Trossard who provided his third assist of the afternoon with a ball to Martin Odegaard. The captain’s composure in the box was excellent, delaying and stepping back inside before firing beyond Leno.
3-0 at the break felt like just reward for our performance, and a hat-trick of assists for Trossard was a significant contribution from a player we didn’t think would be available in the build-up to this match.
As you might expect, Fulham were better/not as bad [delete as appropriate] in the second half. They had some moments, but we defended well enough. A header hit the bar at one point and that was the best they could come up with. Ramsdale was strong from their set-piece deliveries, and when you consider how difficult Aleksandar Mitrovic can be to play against, it’s credit to our defenders – and Saliba in particular – that he barely had a sniff all day.
At the other end there were flashes of what we know we can produce. One brilliant move ended up with a Martinelli shot being blocked, but at 3-0 it was about controlling the game and we did that. There’s a lot of energy left to expend between now and the end of the season, so we didn’t have to go all out in that second half.
The big moment was the return of Gabriel Jesus, coming on for Trossard with about 20 minutes to go. The reception he got when he hit the pitch, and then after his first touch, told you how big it felt to the Arsenal fans in the away end, and to all of us watching. The fear we felt when he got that injury was intense, let’s not forget that. His importance, his quality, his influence – to miss those things in this season of all seasons. Yet here we are with the same lead at the top of the table. This is a massive boost.
He could have scored, Vieira played him in but Leno made a save. At least he’s just picked straight back up from where he left off before the World Cup! In seriousness though, despite the fact he’s been missing for three months or more, there were some touches and flashes of his centre-forward play that remind you we’ve got a hell of a player on our hands here, and when he gets fully match fit, he could be the difference maker.
Odegaard could have scored another after great play from sub Reiss Nelson; Gabriel celebrated a defensive block more vigorously than he celebrated his goal; and Vieira won a hilarious free kick by tripping himself up. It was academic though, Arsenal were by far the better team on the day. On paper – away from home after a European away trip – this looked like a tricky one against a team having a very good season, but the control we exerted from start to finish was really impressive. A perfect away day. Three points, a clean sheet – just what the doctor ordered. And by doctor, I mean Mikel Arteta.
Afterwards, the manager said:
Really happy, it’s a really tough place to come against a well organised team. I think we dominated the game, we created so many chances, we kept a clean sheet – which was really important. And we won the game in a convincing way so I’m very happy.
And on the return of Jesus:
It’s a big boost! His first steps today and we didn’t know whether it was the right game for him today. A few days ago, he told me he was missing something and then yesterday he looked me in the eyes and told me he was ready. Then today we had the opportunity to throw him in because it’s that first step to give him the boost. He looked free and generated two big chances straightaway, and it’s great to have him back.
As I mentioned above though, the team deserves massive credit for what they have done without Jesus. Trossard is up there with the best January signings we’ve ever made, and looking at that bench yesterday you felt confident that there was the kind of quality and depth that hasn’t always been the case this season.
Not to mention we responded to Man City’s win over Crystal Palace, the gap had been closed to 2 points, it’s back to 5. If we can beat Palace ourselves next Sunday, it’ll be 8 before City play in the league again. They will have the game in hand, but it’s still a chance to put it up to them.
Which isn’t to get carried away with anything. We have a midweek game first, but that will be the target for next Sunday. For now, we can put this down as a job very well done, and take all the confidence and positives we can from it.
Right, that’s it for now. James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you later on this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
We should have the podcast for you around lunchtime. Until then.