Craven Cottage is widely regarded as a “good getaway”. Walk through Bishop’s Park from Putney Bridge Underground. River view. Distinguished home support. It really was for Arsenal, a victory in response to Manchester City’s victory on Saturday, no doubt from the start when Mikel Arteta’s side made it clear they were going to perform at a different level.
It’s been an excellent season for Fulham – Marco Silva oversaw an unexpected European qualifier – but they were miserable in the first half, picking up places for eleven and watching Arsenal take an unassailable lead.
“We’ll win the league,” the traveling fans chanted after Gabriel Martinelli scored 2-0 in the 26th minute to complete the team’s beautiful field-to-field movement as Fulham chased the shadows. This was to be one of several tough away games for Arsenal in the transition period – the others being Liverpool, City and Newcastle. But that’s nothing, their lead over City has increased to five points.
Gabriel Magalhães scored the first goal; stubbornly brilliant Martin Ødegaard third and that was it, by half-time, Arsenal were on course for a fifth Premier League win after curling up, 15 goals scored during the sequence. In the stands, Mick Jagger could smile. For him and his Arsenal teammates, there was only satisfaction. It was a nice gesture from Fulham Run me by the Rolling Stones at halftime. They were the most accommodating hosts.
The day started with talk of headaches ahead of Arteta’s selection, who was without the injured Eddie Nketiah. Things calmed down when Leandro Trossard passed a fitness test to run the line, albeit in a fake way for the time. He excelled, assisting each goal, and Gabriel Jesus came on as a substitute in the 77th minute for the first time since the World Cup. He will be a key figure in the coming weeks.
It was interesting to gauge the tone of Silva’s pre-match interview as he lamented the continued loss of João Palhinha through suspension and talked about Arsenal’s threats – their intensity, their proactivity, how they would do “a lot of things we don’t like”. . Silva feared the worst, but he couldn’t have predicted that his team would miss the first half. “We were on the pitch but at times it looked like we weren’t there,” he said.
The numbers tell their own story about Fulham without Palhinha; is now played four, lost four, wickets against 12. Fulham applied minimal pressure on the ball and Arsenal’s breakthrough goal quickly became inevitable; even Fulham seemed prepared for it.
It came in the 21st minute when Gabriel got up to head home from a corner from Trossard, shortly after Arsenal had the ball in the net only for VAR to send him offside. Granit Xhaka released Martinelli down the left wing, and as he curled to the far corner, Bernd Leno pushed the ball to Antonee Robinson, who saw it bounce off him.
Fortunately for Robinson, VAR recognized that Martinelli was a fraction ahead of him on the other side when he started his run, and with the home crowd cheering, there was hope that this would change the dynamic. Until then, Fulham had been terribly passive.
It had no place. Fulham would get worse, much worse for the remainder of a desperate first half for them, sleepwalking under Arsenal’s aggressive press, surrendering possession in dangerous areas, so soft in one-on-ones, making zero as an attacking force. It was as if Ødegaard was playing his own ball while Bukayo Saka exuded strength and confidence and Robinson was no match for him.
Even when Aaron Ramsdale passed the ball to Andreas Pereira in the 42nd minute, the Fulham midfielder wandered away from goal before sending a chip over the crossbar.
Gabriel’s goal was too easy, Fulham meant a shambles but Arsenal’s second goal was beautiful, started by Saka’s tight control with the men around him to the right of his defensive third and fired through a long diagonal from William Saliba. Trossard stepped around his man to go; Martinelli jumped to the far post while Robinson did not.
Robinson’s nightmare was about to continue as Trossard’s cross flew over him at half-time and Ødegaard went inside to close the game – Kenny Tete initially gave the ball away with a loose throw-in mid-half – and the only relief for Silva’s team was that the injury did not there were more burns. Granit Xhaka hit hard at 2-0 with a clean hit; Trossard shot wide after Robinson was exposed and Leno saved from Martinelli amidst Fulham’s statuesque defence.
Fulham at least showed their professional pride in the second half and they were unlucky not to score. Ramsdale cleverly saved Bobby De Cordov-Reid and Tosin Adarabioyo and Aleksandar Mitrovic headed a corner into the bar.
Arsenal lowered the gear but still nearly scored a fourth goal. Tete blocked Martinelli on a neat counter; the underboss, Fábio Vieira, worked with Leno, as did Jesus after making a concession with Vieira. Jesus would hit the ground in frustration, Arsenal denied icing on the cake. Otherwise it was a feast.