From what I’ve been told, the trip to Craven Cottage from North London – down the river Thames on a boat – is one of the most enjoyable days out that an Arsenal supporter can have. Arsenal have only lost there 8 times since 1913 and the last time Arsenal lost at Fulham was 2012, when Lee Probert raised Arsene Wenger’s ire by sending off Johan Djourou for two of the softest yellow cards in the history of top flight English football.
That type of result wasn’t in the cards yesterday. Mikel Arteta started with Leo Trossard (fans seem to have adapted the THEO THEO THEO chant for him) up front/left swapping places with Martinelli. Behind that dynamic duo were the standard fare of 34, 5, and 8 with the settled back four of White, Saliba, Gabriel, and Zinchenko.
After an initial 5 minutes of rather tame football Arsenal started selectively pressing up high and winning the ball back in dangerous places. Arsenal opened the scoring when Xhaka played through to Martinelli whose shot was saved into the path of Robinson for an Own Goal. Nelli was just offside but it was a sign of things to come for the Cottagers. Leno would be tested 4 times in the opening 15 minutes and saved all.
How the narrative might have been different had that own goal by Nelli stood. As it was, Leo took a corner in the 21st minute and put the ball on a plate for Gabriel to nod home. I’ve complained quite vociferously about Nelli taking Arsenal’s right-footed corners because he literally only has one key pass on 66 attempts (PL and EL). Arteta has tried different things lately – running some NFL type plays recently – but yesterday he went with basics: put White on Leno, put the ball in the 3 yard area, get a big man on the end. Trossard’s first assist from a corner (this season).
Arsenal got the 2nd goal when William Saliba looked hemmed in by the high press of Fulham but instead of turning the ball over he clipped an extraordinary pass to Xhaka in acres of space. Trossard took a crazy pass from Xhaka*, dipped in, dipped out, and stood the ball up to the far post. There was Martinelli to nod home past the flapping Leno. Fulham’s Robinson also didn’t do anything to challenge Nelli on the header. If he was an Arsenal player I’d be seriously asking for him to be dropped. It was pathetic, weak defending. Nelli immediately thanked Saliba and rightly: Trossard is awarded the assist but it was really Saliba’s pass which set the whole thing up.
Trossard should have probably scored one for himself in the 35th minute. Zinchenko switched to Saka, who passed to Øde and Arsenal pinged the ball around until they found Trossard in the box. The Belgian switched right to left and swept a shot just wide with his chocolate leg.
Ramsdale tried to give Fulham a goal back with an asinine pass, attempted with the outside of the boot, straight to Pereira. Luckily the Fulham man thought he was prime Messi and tried to scoop in a shot when he probably should have just played the ball to a wide open Mitrovic.
Arsenal’s third goal came with what was almost literally the last kick of the first half. Fulham had a throw-in and #5 stepped in the way and intercepted. It was lazy play by Fulham if I’m honest, which was the hallmark of that first half for them. Their supporters should be, and probably are, livid by what they saw from their team yesterday. That was one of the weakest first half performances I’ve seen from an Arsenal opponent and I only hope the rest of them are that easy! But regardless of their jelly-like performance, once again Trossard was on the ball and once again he stood the pass up to the far post. There was Martin Ødegaard who collected the ball in the box and was so unchallenged by Fulham’s defenders that he had time to settle, collect his thoughts, read Ivanhoe, give a lecture on Ivanhoe to Oslo University, fly back, get the ball again, and lash home a goal.
I’m not being harsh on Fulham when I say it was one of the worst first half performances I’ve seen from a professional football team. But hey, if every team wants to do this from here on out and let Arsenal win the League I will be eternally grateful. Something tells me that ain’t happening.
The second half from Arsenal was a lesson in keeping a clean sheet. Fulham came out in the 2nd half showing a little bit of pride and forced a good save from Ramsdale in the 68th minute. That was followed up by a bit of luck when Chenk Tosin hit the crossbar with a power header from the corner.
Arsenal threw on Gabriel Jesus and the star center forward had one really good chance saved by Leno. Overall a very professional performance for Arsenal and great to see the Gunners maintain their 5 point lead at the top of the table.
One last thing. Trossard has been a huge signing for Arsenal. Over the years, I can only count a few Arsenal January signings which have had as much impact as Leo has had this season. It’s very difficult for a player to come in in January and have an impact on a club and especially to help them in a title challenge. Folks pointing to Reyes’ signing in the Invincibles season are, I think, off the mark: he did provide the assist in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford but his two goals came after Arsenal had won the League (at White Hart Lane, we won the League at White Hart Lane, we won the League in the shithole, we won the League at White Hart Lane!)
Arshavin and Aubameyang are two that I think most turned our seasons around but those two years were fairly atrocious from an Arsenal standpoint. That Arshavin side was 5th behind Aston Villa when he came in and he was able to lift us to 4th. I was at his first Arsenal match and he looked slow and pudgy but there’s no question he helped save Arsene’s 4th place trophy. The Auba team was also 5th when he was signed for 60m+ but he wasn’t able to overcome the enormous drag factor of late era Wenger’s anti-defense and Arsenal finished 6th.
Here are the best January signings (guys with the most immediate impact) since I’ve been watching Arsenal:
Trossard: 2022/23 – 1 goal, 5 assists (in 6 matches so far)
Auba: 2017/18 – 10 goals, 4 assists
Arshavin: 2008/09 – 6 goals, 8 assists
Adebayor: 2005/06 – 4 goals, 4 assists
*Xhaka’s through passes and passes to wide players are terrifying.