Well it wasn’t for a lack of trying. But for the Claudio Ranieri era, Fulham looked intimidated in defense and looked like they wanted to be pushed around. Now that’s not denying that Arsenal are a very talented side when things click for them. It’s just that Fulham are running out of time to stave off relegation and further excuses about such defeats like tonight to go along with it.
The first half was about as high octane as you could get as Arsenal started the game on the front foot from the word go. Saed Kolasinac might as well have been Roberto Carlos from his wing back position and Granit Xhaka was everywhere from midfield. And even if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette did not score in the opening minutes, they were everywhere in the penalty area ready to strike with speed.
That being said, it is not like Fulham didn’t come to play either. Ryan Sessegnon was brilliant and bluntly should have scored at lease once. The first chance came from a counter-attack where he couldn’t find the netting when it was just between him and Bernt Leno towards goal. The next came from an uncharacteristically accurate cross by André Schürrle that just couldn’t get connected from point-blank range. But that’s what you get from a teenager whose 10.5% goal conversion rate this season is more than half of his previous scoring rate. Even so, Fulham’s endeavor were enough to anger the crowd at the Emirates Stadium who demand a much better Arsenal team after being embarrassed so much by Liverpool last time.
They fortunately got their reward off of a Tom Cairney turnover. From there Alex Iwobi put a cross to a cutting Xhaka who converted it easily past Sergio Rico to make it 1-0. It may not have been the death blow just yet, but it was enough to convince the crowd that Arsenal were switched on from here on out. But it was without Fulham creating more chances as Schürrle did off of a trademark volley and Aleksander Mitrovic almost scoring off of a header thanks to a great Joe Bryan cross. Still, Arsenal were everywhere in attack themselves, and if it wasn’t for a few fine saves from Rico, the margin of victory would have been much greater. In the end, Fulham could be proud of their efforts heading into the break, but with 2.48 expected goals in just seven shots, Arsenal new they had the bit between the teeth as well heading into the dressing rooms.
As both teams returned in the second half, one of them didn’t look the same outfit as the teams that just left. This time, it was Arsenal that was making a halftime adjustment as Lucas Torreira came on for the supposedly injured Shkrodan Mustafi. What came of it was a Gunners XI that shifted from a 3-4-3 into a 4-4-2 formation in hopes for more cover for Fulham counter-attacks. For the most part it worked, as Alexandre Lacazette made it 2-1 off of some beautiful buildup play on the right hand side thanks to some slick passing by Iwobi again, along with Aubameyang and Kalasinac. Simply put, Cyrus Christie was turned into a ragdoll all night defensively and him being substituted by Timothy Fosu-Mensah did not make things much better.
But even so, Claudio Ranieri thought more was in store for this Fulham side and the substitutions of Aboubakar Kamara and Jean-Michael Seri livened things up on the other end of the pitch. Surely enough, it was Seri’s workrate that caused a turnover in the attacking half and it led to Sessegnon making a slick pass to Kamara to make it 2-1. It was as if the traveling support completely forgot what the goal scorer did previously against Huddersfield when they celebrated cutting the lead in half!
However, Arsenal had one last trick up their sleeve that sealed the game. In a strange way, replacing a striker for a midfielder would mostly be a bad idea. But the Gunners were rocking defensively and they needed extra solidity to secure their three points. In stepped Aaron Ramsey, who might as well be the stuff of Fulham nightmares this season as he was able to retrieve a Aubameyang shot that rang the post so that he can slot it in the top right corner past Rico to make it 3-1. Surely enough a failed clearing attempt by Seri and Denis Odoi resulted in one last kill shot by Aubemeyang, who was able to have his deflected shot by Tim Ream go over Rico and put the cherry on top of a much closer contest.
Sadly, the numbers may tell otherwise as Fulham also lost the overall expected goal battle 4.43-1.71. But Ranieri’s team can find some respite and realise that they can attack teams while having a defensive posture. They’re just going to have to do it much more often as wins will be few and far between as the season draws closer to the end. For now, an FA Cup fixture is next and there will be more tinkering from The Tinkerman to do.