Result: Fulham 0-3 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 12 September 2020
Venue: Craven Cottage
Starting lineup: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Xhaka, Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Subs: Macey, Kolasinac, Ceballos, Willock, Saka, Pepe, Nketiah
Arsenal started the 2020/21 campaign with an impressive 3-0 win against newly-promoted Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Alex Lacazette’s scrappy early opener set the tone for a dominant performance that included a debut goal for new defender Gabriel Magalhaes and trademark curler by captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Leno was given the nod in goal with Emi Martinez set to leave the club. In defence, we went with a three-man backline that included debutant Gabriel Magalhaes, Holding and Tierney. Bellerin and Maitland-Niles provided the width. Elneny’s inclusion, at the expense of Ceballos, was a bit of a surprise. He partnered Xhaka. Willian and Aubameyang sat either side of Lacazette in attack. With the game returning to three subs, there was no room on the bench for Saliba, Torreira, Ozil and Guendouzi. Pepe and young trio Willock, Saka and Nketiah did provide attacking options.
After a limited pre-season for both sides, it was hardly a surprise that the opening 45 minutes was played at a leisurely pace. The Gunners, playing in the new blue third strip, even looked a little nervy.
A mix-up between Leno and Gabriel, who decided to leave a dribbling Maitland-Niles back pass when he probably should have tidied it up, allowed Fulham’s Kamara to pounce in the box. Our keeper had to get down low to clear the danger. An exchange of words was had, although in what language is anybody’s guess.
The Brazilian went on to concede a cheap free-kick charging into the back of another Fulham player but he soon settled down and actually had a very solid half.
Our first meaningful attack saw us bundle home a first goal of the new season. Elneny lofted a ball over the defence to Aubameyang who teed up Xhaka to shoot. The Swiss’ bouncing effort was blocked into the path of Willian, his follow-up was saved and Lacazette pounced at the back pos. (1-0)
There was an interesting fluidity to our formation. On paper, we set up with a three-man backline with Maitland-Niles providing width on the left. However, almost every time we moved the ball out of defence, the newly capped England international would dart into midfield. That pretty much left us playing a pair of centre-backs with Tierney covering the whole left flank. As soon as Fulham won the ball back, Tierney tucked inside and Maitland-Niles dropped into defence again. Bellerin was doing something similar on the right but it was less pronounced.
Overloading midfield allowed us to dominate possession and we created a few more decent chances. An Elneny and Lacazette interchange freed the Egyptian to shoot but his effort was blocked. Willian hit the post with a free-kick after Lacazette was fouled on the edge of the box and Aubameyang tried his luck at the near post after pulling down a long-range Tierney pass with delightful control.
The Gunners were quick out of the traps, Holding showing some remarkable skill to keepy-uppy his way through three Fulham defenders on the edge of their box. A lovely little pass freed Lacazette who subsequently won a corner that Willian took. New boy Gabriel found enough space in a crowded box to shoulder in from six-ards out. He was mobbed by his teammates. (2-0)
Kamara flashed a shot wide in a reminder not to led out guard down, before we produced a stunning goal working the ball from back to front. The final stages saw Willian ping a superb cross field pass to Aubameyang – a replica of the Saka assist in the Community Shield – and our captain did the rest. He took one, two, three touches and then curled into the top corner. (3-0)
Mitrovic, who has the look of a man who can’t wait to retire so he can spend his days eating cake and kebabs, came off the bench and tested Leno.
We flirted with a fourth on a number of occasions. On 72 minutes, Tierney freed Auba who in turn crossed for Lacazette whose effort was brilliantly blocked by the keeper. Five minutes later, after another flowing move that started with Leno, Aubameyang had an effort cleared off the line after a through pass by Bellerin. Pepe, on as a sub, also had a dangerous cross cleared.
All in all, a very promising way to start the new season. There are sterner tests ahead but off the back of limited preparation, the boys look focused.