Arsenal’s old and new faces starred as they beat newly-promoted Fulham 3-0 at Craven Cottage in the Premier League season opener.
Arsenal got Mikel Arteta’s first full campaign up and running through Alexandre Lacazette’s tap-in (9) as debutant Willian’s shot was parried by Marek Rodak, before Willian hit the post with a free-kick.
Willian’s corner was then nodded home by fellow debutant and man-of-the-match Gabriel Magalhaes after the break (49) before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang curled home a beauty from just inside the box from another Willian assist (57) to hand Arsenal a dominant opening-day win.
Arsenal’s momentum and belief was clear to see, with Arteta claiming his 18th win in the last 30 games.
Fulham: Rodak (6), Ream (5), Hector (4), Odoi (6), Bryan (5), Onomah (5), Cairney (5), Reed (5), Kebano (5), Cavaleiro (5), Kamara (4)
Subs: Anguissa (5), Mitrovic (5), Reid (5)
Arsenal: Leno (7), Bellerin (7), Gabriel (8), Holding (7), Tierney (8), Maitland-Niles (7), Elneny (7), Xhaka (7), Willian (8), Aubameyang (7), Lacazette (7)
Subs: Pepe (6), Ceballos (NA), Nketiah (NA)
Man of the match: Gabriel Magalhaes
The Premier League kicked off again just 48 days after the end of the 2019/20 season, but for Fulham it was a 489-day wait to put things right following their relegation in 2019.
Bernd Leno had to deny Aboubakar Kamara at his feet after a mix-up between himself and Gabriel early on, but Arsenal soon found their rhythm and were ahead with a soft opener from Fulham’s point of view.
Granit Xhaka’s miscued attempt from the edge of the box fell fortuitously to Willian at close range after Tim Ream failed to clear, and after the Brazilian’s close-range shot on the stretch was parried by Marek Rodak, Lacazette pounced to tap home into the empty net.
Arsenal looked relatively comfortable in the first half, with Fulham lacking bite, and the visitors were nearly 2-0 up as Willian’s whipped free-kick from 20 yards came off the foot of the post.
Arsenal did get their second four minutes after the break as Gabriel rose easily above Michael Hector to meet Willian’s wicked corner, the ball going in off the defender’s shoulder. Under new handball rules, the goal stood, but would have likely been disallowed last season.
It was soon 3-0 through a superb team goal; Lacazette did superbly to hold up the ball on halfway, before Willian found Aubayemang galloping into the box with a diagonal. The Gabon forward did the rest, curling into the top corner from 15 yards.
It means Willian is the first player to assist two goals on his Premier League debut for Arsenal since Ray Parlour in August 1992 against Liverpool.
Aleksandar Mitrovic was on the bench for Fulham, with Aboubakar Kamara preferred, and the only change from the Play-Off final win over Brentford was Cavaleiro coming in for Cordova-Reid. New goalkeeper Alphonse Areola was also on the bench having only joined on Wednesday.
Gabriel Magalhaes made his debut in the Arsenal defence, while Willian also made his bow down the road from his old home at Stamford Bridge. Tierney was at left centre-back in a five-man defence again, with Maitland-Niles wide left, preferred over Saka. There was no Emiliano Martinez on the bench, as his move to Aston Villa nears.
Aubameyang saw a shot from an acute angle cleared off the line by Hector after rounding the goalkeeper, but Arsenal did manage to keep Fulham out to earn their first clean sheet in four games, helped by the superb Gabriel on his first appearance since the £27m move from Lille.
Arsenal looked well-drilled off the ball and assured on it throughout as Arteta looks to turn a work in progress into tangible success, while Fulham know they will have easier opponents as they look to succeed where they failed in 2019.
Arsenal’s new faces stole the headlines in the 3-0 win over Fulham, but we were also given firm clues about the future of several current players at the Emirates.
Emiliano Martinez was not named on the Arsenal bench, with his potential move to Aston Villa gaining momentum, but Alexandre Lacazette said after the win that he is happy to stay.
“I’m really happy. It’s only the press who say l am unhappy and l want to leave. But me, from the beginning, I have said I am happy with Arsenal and “I want to play and win titles, we won a title last month, so I am happy with Arsenal.”
As for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and that elusive contract, Mikel Arteta insisted: “I’m really positive we’ll get it done. Hopefully in the next few days you can get some news.”
The Arsenal boss also said defender Rob Holding was going nowhere having been heavily linked with a loan to Newcastle; he started in the win following David Luiz’s injury.
Fulham boss Scott Parker on BT Sport: “It’s a big challenge, I’ve said that before. We all realise the challenge ahead. Saying that, for 45 minutes in that first half I liked a lot about us. The fine margins at this level, the fine detail, is that you probably need to be a bit more ruthless when chances fall.
“Second half at times we accepted things; but this is part and parcel, this is our journey, we understand where we are and what we need to do. This is a long season for us, and we know where we need to improve. How we move forward will be the bigger test for us.”
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