The Cottagers weren’t expected to win the Fulham v Arsenal fixture and all Gunners had to do was to find a half-decent rhythm, which may sound disrespectful but after the match, Fulham boss Scott Parker admitted his side has to develop quickly and learn from their mistakes. However, they hadn’t truly learned that much from last season’s successful promotion campaign, where they shipped goals-against pace down the flanks and from balls over the top.
Fulham’s flakey defence looked bemused at times as the gunners went through the gears to grab a relatively scruffy goal, courtesy of an attempt on the Cottagers’ goal from Willian, which pinged out to the feet of the predatory Lacazette (9).
Willian, who arrived at the Emirates labelled as a Chelsea reject or simply as too old, has lost none of his appetites and he was involved in all three goals. It appears that the Brazilian, who played like a 20-year-old, has a point to prove and if his ability to find the strikers is anything like it was in the Fulham v Arsenal game, Aubameyang will be clocking up lots of goals this season.
I’ll deal with Gabriel’s debut in a while, but let me skip to the third goal around the 57th minute. Willian delivered a sublime ball from right to left, across the heads of scrambling Fulham players to the feet of Aubameyang and the Gabonese striker put the ball beyond the keeper with his own style.
It was such a familiar goal and one that is almost becoming a trademark. Aubameyang out wide on the left moving forward, a long ball that finds him ready to accelerate. A touch to control, the cut inside, and the stroked curl beyond the outstretched keeper. If we are to find a type of play that can be called ‘Artetaball’, this is it. It’s almost reminiscent of the Wenger days of classic counter-attack, with a certain Thierry Henry at the top of the opposition’s half.
Aubameyang just can’t be stopped in these positions, he’s always available for the right pass and has the touch, finesse, and speed to finish. Teams could watch this build-up all day long and still be unable to prevent the inevitable.
Before I exhaust all the superlatives, let’s move on to debutant Gabriel, who was stolen from Lyon for £23m plus addons and apart from an early misunderstanding with Leno, that nearly provided Fulham with an unexpected gift, the highly-rated centre-back looked commanding and at times, dominant. He has yet to face a top-flight strike force, but the signs so far are good and he crowned his first appearance with a headed goal four minutes into the restart.
Now the analysis. There was a lot to admire in this performance but Fulham are not Leeds and that type of opposition, who nearly put Liverpool to the sword, will certainly provide stiffer challenges across a season, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and they did it with clinical ease and professional efficiency.
The much-maligned Mohamed Elneny, who looks like a new signing, made a consistent and productive contribution in the middle. Again, he wasn’t up against Manchester City but he kept things clean and tidy in the Fulham v Arsenal game, mopping up where needed and by keeping the play going forward.
Elsewhere, once Willian builds an understanding with his fellow strikers, the goals will be much easier to come by. For all those social media moaning ninnies who line up to protest about the first-half performance, perhaps, they should learn to judge the game as a whole and not just a half.
Fans are still salivating at the eventual pairing of Saliba and Gabriel but let’s not overlook Rob Holding, who seems to be approaching his best with a solid confidence-building performance. Arteta is still building but he has some players that can certainly provide positive results and the fact that two of his summer transfers have hit the ground running is very encouraging.
Arteta has got Arsenal playing out from the back in comfort and the defence, which was feeble and dire, now enjoys passing it around to find a way upfield. It’s been a tough nut to crack, especially under Unai Emery, but Mikel Arteta has instilled a sense of calm and order. The blind panic that used to occur when the ball left the keeper appears to be a thing of the past with Arsenal progressing up the field with a series of slick counter-attacks.
Arsenal need two, possibly three more signings to put down a marker against the top sides because it’s been noticeable that they had to dig in last season for long periods of crucial games. As good as Xhaka, Elneny, and Ceballos have been, there’s a real need for more quality and varied options and at the moment, I just can’t see any place for Mesut Ozil and Guendouzi.
Arsenal could have won the Fulham v Arsenal game by a much wider margin but with only one training session with the full squad, it was a good game to watch. Not perfect but certainly not painful. Yes, some things need work, but this Arsenal is unrecognisable from the one that Unai Emery left behind.