Well now, I must confess, I didn’t expect to get such a comfortable afternoon for the Arsenal players in West London yesterday, that’s for sure. Fulham were a side difficult to play against, especially on their own ground, with a week off and us having travelled to Portugal to play midweek too. This felt like a banana-skin game if ever there was one and I feared Fulham would turn up the heat o us and this title race.
How wrong I was.
On the Same Old Arsenal pod yesterday afternoon I asked the question to the guys as to whether it was Arsenal that were that good, or Fulham were just that bad, because it had been suggested that Fulham were terrible yesterday. I’m not sure If i’d go with the assessment that Fulham were utterly terrible in that first half, but maybe it was an Arsenal team that turned up with such confidence and swagger, that it stopped Fulham from being able to play any football at all. We were sumptuous in that first half; we were composed and controlled in possession, the football was calculated and clever, with each one of the players connecting with each other in ways that has all the hallmarks of a side who is competing for the title. We have won nothing yet – as Arteta will be at pains to point out – but based on what has happened so far this season, we look like a side very capable of winning this league.
It is a fairly obvious statement of fact in hindsight, I know, but Leandro Trossard coming back in to the team was massive. There was no talk about him at any stage in the last couple of days and I think most of us just assumed that he would be out until after the international break. But when Charles Watts broke the news that he would be back and Gabriel Jesus would also be in the squad yesterday morning, it gave all of us the kind of boost that we needed ahead of this game. And then Trossard put in his best performance in an Arsenal shirt this season. Three assists in the first half and his impact was such that it earned him the man-of-the-match award. He thoroughly deserved it. I just love the way he moves with the ball. He is so nimble and for the second goal I loved the way he shifted his body weight to the right and then left to beat his man and float the ball to the back stick for Martinelli. He gives us something that no other player in the Arsenal team gives and his arrival as another option in attack for us is nothing short of a master stroke from Edu and Arteta.
He also unleashes Martinelli too. He’s a little more of a wide forward that interchanges positions and rotates with Martinelli – like Gabriel Jesus – and it is no surprise that Martinelli has been in the goals and playing better football with Trossard in the team rather than Nketiah. I don’t want to bag on Nketiah and he’s certainly been an important member of the team since Christmas, but his injury and the ability for Arteta to put him Trossard in centrally, has shown that we get more out of the likes of Martinelli when he has the right foil to unlock his best attributes. What we have right now is working and we need to stick with that.
What is also great for Arteta too is the options that we now have. The bench yesterday was the strongest it has looked all season; Turner, Tomiyasu, Tierney, Jorginho, Vieira and Gabriel Jesus all making the bench and although the job was done in the second half which enabled Arteta to bring on the likes of Nelson for Saka, the fact we could give minutes to some of these players and rotate others in prep for the busy schedule we have, was great to see. You only need to look at the fact that Tierney came on with 20 to go to show another example of the depth we have arrived at and on Thursday this week when we play Sporting at home, Arteta will feel like he can rotate again and keep some of those players fresh ahead of the game against Palace on Sunday.
But that is then, we need to focus on now, reflecting on what felt like it would be such a difficult game that ended up being an absolute walk in the park. The movement from out of defence for the second goal was sublimed. Fulham were looking to pin us in but with one casual lift over the top of the Fulham press by Saliba to Xhaka, we were away. It was brilliant football which as I’ve already said included Trossard’s great cross and then Martinelli’s header.
We were calmness personified. That was further underlined with that third goal too. Martin Odegaard – brilliant all game as usual – seemed to just slow everything down in the box as he picked his moment to slot the ball in to the back of the net right on halftime. The way he was able to just control it, take a touch, then a second touch to set himself, before finding the corner of the net was just masterful. I’ve waxed lyrical about Martin all season and I’ll continue to do that when he keeps banging in the goals and making the assists. He’s on 10 goals and six assists for the season and it shows just how wonderful a season he is having. And I also love how we’re spreading the responsibility too. Bukayo Saka has 19 goals and assists. Gabriel Martinelli has 14, Odegaard with 16 and Gabriel Jesus has 10, having been out for a third of the season.
And his return was the icing on a pretty taste cake yesterday, as he got around 15 minutes right at the end of the game. The benefits of that – when you are three up and cruising – cannot be underestimated and because of the game state it was a nice way to ease him in. Just before I clock off for today and speaking of game state, when you look at the match stats, it would look like a closer game than it actually was. This was a stroll in the first half where Arsenal did all of their damage and then held Fulham at arms length in the second. There were a couple of moments that threatened the clean sheet (Ramsdale made a couple of saves and Tosin I think it was who hit the bar from a corner) but Arsenal coped with most of the second half expected onslaught pretty well and so this is one of those instances where the statistics of the game belie the reality of what happened. But I don’t care, you don’t care, nobody at Arsenal will care. The most important statistic of all is that three more points were added to our tally and if we can get a win at home to Palace next weekend, it’ll be eight clear of City, albeit with them having a game in hand.
Onwards to the next challenge.
Catch you all tomorrow.
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