Fulham 1 (Bent 77) – Arsenal 3 (Giroud 13, Podolski 41, 68)
Man of the Match - Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
Normal service resumed as Arsenal chalked their first points on the Premier League table, with a convincing win on a rainy day at Craven Cottage over Fulham.
With the usual pre-match groaning about how the current squad is so devoid of depth, and the mutterings about the lack of any new signings, the players got into their jobs from the start. Jack Wilshere was rested, and that meant a first start of the season for Lukas Podolski who started in his usual position, out left. With Laurent Koscielny injured, Bacary Sagna started as a makeshift centre-back alongside makeshit captain Per Mertesacker. Arsenal also named a makeshift bench, with Zelalem, Gnabry, Frimpong and Sanogo all named.
Fulham gave starts to new signings Adel Taraabt, and Scott Parker, who is now playing for his 5th capital club. Quite some feat that. David Stockdale started in goal, in place of Netherlands international Maarten Stekelenberg.
The first attempt on goal came, when Aaron Ramsey’s lofted pass was met by Walcott, but he could only draw a reflex save from Stockdale. Olivier Giroud was doing a good job of holding up play, with his physical presence early on, and deftly set up Cazorla, but the Spaniard’s shot was saved. Giroud’s header was then cleared away off the line by Riise.
The breakthrough came in the 13th minute, when Aaron Ramsey’s long shot struck the Frenchman, but it kindly fell into his path again. He made no mistake in slotting it past Stockdale. It was his 3rd goal in as many games this season.
However, moments later, the Cottagers almost drew level, when a rasping shot from Taraabt was parried into the path of winger Damien Duff. Szczesny, however recovered in time to make the double save with his legs. It was the usual Arsenal story, as Fulham slowly built into the game. Arsenal were unable to stamp their full authority by scoring a second.
Fulham worked a good routine, and Riise was released on goal, but Mertesacker made a Merteception, which eventually lead to a great Arsenal chance, with Walcott pulling away from Fulham’s defenders. However, his pass to Gibbs wasn’t in a great position, and the left back could only shoot wide.
Arsenal, though, didn’t have to wait long to make it 2-0. Cazorla released Walcott whose shot was parried by Stockdale, and it fell right to Lukas Podolski. In one movement, he scored the second goal, and his first of the season. And it should have been 3-0 when Walcott fed Podolski, but the chance was wasted by the German.
The second half saw Fulham make the first attempt at goal, when a diving Szczesny saved an effort from Taraabt. Walcott then got on to a Gibbs cross, and his misdirected header fell to Ramsey, who could only drag his effort wide.
Arsenal, by now were confidently rolling the ball around on the slush surface, with Fulham struggling to get a stranglehold on the match. It was soon 3-0, as a fine Giroud take down, and a Cazorla pass later, Podolski made no mistake, putting the ball in the back of the net.
Arsene Wenger used this lead to ring in some changes, bringing Wilshere, Monreal and Sanogo on in place of Rosicky, Giroud and Podolski. Fulham managed to get a goal back, when Berbatov made a fine turn in the box. Szczesny wasn’t able to react quickly enough, and Darren Bent was alert enough to tap home. It was the England international’s 7th goal against Arsenal in his last 9 appearances.
It was a good and vital result for a beleaguered Arsenal side, ravaged by injury concerns. Santi Cazorla was impressive throughout, and signs of fatigue seem to have disappeared. He orchestrated several attacks, and along with Ramsey formed a fluid midfield partnership. Rosicky played a bit more forward, and seemed wanting at times, while Cazorla played slightly deeper than usual, hence being able to work in tandem with Ramsey and Rosicky.
Giroud was massive up front, and won his duel with Hangeland, a centre back Arsenal have not really dealt well with in the past. Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott looked more menacing than often on the wings, and this helped Arsenal break quickly on counters.
The defence put in an impressive showing, with Sagna putting in a solid shift at centre-back, with Mertesacker. Jenkinson struggled a bit, with Riise and Taraabt making constant forays. Gibbs too looked slightly suspect, with Reither and Kasami on Fulham’s wings. Szczesny was at his impressive best, and made some good saves.
Next up in the league is the Scums from down the road, but before that there is the second leg against Fenerbahce at home to get past. With a big 3-0 lead from the first leg, there really shouldn’t be any hiccups at this stage now!
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