Arsenal can get Satisfaction
Embarrassingly easy as Jagger sees mesmeric Gunners saunter past Fulham
The tennis courts in Bishops Park were busy on Sunday afternoon. Families sat outside the pretty bay window of The Tea house, eating the all- day brunch and watching the world go by.
Cloncurry Street and Woodlawn Road have rarely looked more elegant and rarefied. It was, all things considered, a pleasant afternoon for a stroll by the Thames.
Arsenal got into the spirit of it. If there has been plenty of fire, brimstone, brinkmanship and emotion about some of their encounters this season, this was a gentle jaunt on the cusp of spring.
They sauntered past a disappointingly tame Fulham team without breaking sweat. They made it look so comfortable that no one would have noticed if one of them had wandered off to watch the rowers on the river.
Their 3-0 victory, Mikel Arteta’s 100th win as Arsenal manager, took them five points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League again with 11 games to go.
Fulham have had a fine campaign and a win here would have taken them above Liverpool into fifth, but they never looked like troubling the leaders. Not remotely. ‘ We were too soft, too soft,’ manager Marco Silva said.
Fresh from their comeback draw at Sporting Lisbon in the europa League last week, Arsenal were mesmerically good in the first half, a blur of clever movement and flawless technique.
Goals from Gabriel, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard, all in the opening 45 minutes, all from assists by the outstanding Leandro Trossard, restored the visitors’ cushion at the top after City’s victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
MICkJAGGeR was watching from the stands and at half- time, the stadium announcer played Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones. It sounded like a plaintive plea to Silva’s side but the home team never got the message. They failed to make this any sort of a contest.
Arsenal, who have the best away record in the league with 11 wins from 14 matches, are edging closer and closer to an improbable prize.
Both sides had early escapes. Aleksandar Mitrovic might have punished Arsenal when the flight of the ball deceived Ben White and the Serbia striker chested it down inside the box. Mitrovic tried to lob the ball over Aaron Ramsdale but misjudged his effort and lifted it high over the bar.
A minute later, Martinelli escaped down the left after a one-two with Granit Xhaka, opened his body and drilled a shot across Bernd Leno towards the far corner.
The Fulham goalkeeper flung himself to his left to push it out but it cannoned off the legs of Antonee Robinson and rolled into the net. Arsenal celebrated but VAR checked for offside. ‘This is s***,’ a Fulham fan shouted out. he may have changed his mind a few seconds later when the goal was disallowed.
Midway through the half, though, Fulham ran out of luck. Trossard curled in a corner from the Fulham right and Gabriel rose highest in a crowded six-yard box to nod the ball down and past Leno into the net.
If that seemed too easy, Arsenal’s second, five minutes later, owed much to more poor defending.
Trossard floated a cross to the back post, Robinson got the wrong side of Martinelli and could not even muster a leap as the Brazil forward guided his header past Leno.
Ten minutes before half-time, Arsenal nearly added a third with what would have been a beautiful team goal. Tosin Adarabioyo gave the ball away cheaply to Thomas Partey, Partey played it to Odegaard, Odegaard slid it to Xhaka, who let it run and then moved on to a return pass from Trossard. With only Leno to beat, Xhaka took a heavy touch and the ball rolled harmlessly into the grateful arms of the goalkeeper.
Arsenal missed another chance to extend their lead on the stroke of the interval when White lofted a cross to the back post and Martinelli stole in behind the Fulham defence. Martinelli met it on the volley and played it into the ground but as Leno fell backwards into his goal, he palmed it away to safety with his left hand.
Fulham could not survive until half-time without conceding again, though. Arsenal seemed to be able to cut through their defence at will and when Bukayo Saka worked the ball to Trossard on the left, Fulham’s centre backs let his cross drift over them to Odegaard.
Odegaard took it down, dribbled past one defender and then, untroubled by any semblance of a challenge, curled his shot beyond Leno. Arsenal were making it look embarrassingly easy.
‘ The first thing I said at half-time was “wake up”,’ said Silva, and Fulham did at least stop the bleeding.
Arsenal’s fluency dipped a little after the break and they seemed content merely to maintain their lead but midway through the second half, a brilliant flick from Xhaka freed Martinelli and only a superb block from kenny Tete prevented a fourth goal.
Fulham even started showing signs of life: Ramsdale saved well from Bobby Decordova-Reid and
a header from Mitrovic crashed against the face of the bar.
Gabriel Jesus came on 13 minutes from the end to make his first appearance since he was injured for Brazil at the World Cup. He looked impressively sharp and hungry. It was the perfect end to Arsenal’s walk in the park.