Arsenal fans show they can enjoy their football again in Fulham thrashing
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Arsenal's impressive 5-1 victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage.
1. Arsenal fans can enjoy their football again
"We've got our Arsenal back," sang the travelling fans as Aaron Ramsey scored the Gunners' third goal in their latest victory, this one 5-1 at Fulham. This was Arsenal's ninth in a row in all competitions, making those early season woes seem like a very long time ago, and at least providing some optimism and enthusiasm in the stands.
Nobody expects Unai Emery's side to challenge for the title this season, but at the very least watching Arsenal is no longer a chore. With Arsene Wenger gone, the weight of a diminishing legend being their manager has been lifted. This is an Arsenal team playing football that satisfies the aesthetic demands while collecting points at the same time.
Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both got two, Ramsey the other, and while Fulham were briefly level through Andre Schurrle, this result never really looked in doubt.
Fulham had been impressive in the early stages, everything done at pace and with great intensity. They had a few half-chances, but it was Arsenal who took the lead just before the half hour.
Alex Iowbi and Nacho Monreal combined nicely down the left to set up Lacazette, who turned superbly in the box and fired inside the near post. The spin and the shot were performed in one smooth motion, and with such grace and speed that the Fulham defence didn't have chance to react.
Arsenal should have extended their lead a couple of times after that and looked in control, but as the half ticked down Fulham managed to drag themselves back into the game, culminating in their equaliser just before the break.
Luciano Vietto tucked a neat ball through to Schurrle, who timed his run as perfectly as the weight of the pass, and he flicked the ball over the advancing Bernd Leno. At that stage Fulham deserved to be level, if only for how they had kept themselves in the game.
But Arsenal were back ahead after the break, and it was Lacazette once more. Again he got the ball with his back to goal, again he span expertly and again he fired into the near bottom corner, but this time it was a half-volley from 25 yards out.
The win was effectively sealed by Ramsey, who finished a brilliant flowing move with a delicious backheeled flick into the corner with virtually his first touch after coming on as a substitute. It now looks inevitable that Ramsey will leave Arsenal, perhaps as soon as January with a new contract unlikely to be signed. When he does things like that, it seems absurd that they cannot figure out a way to keep him.
It was four with 10 minutes left as Hector Bellerin sped down the right, crossed to substitute Aubameyang, who span and half-volleyed into the far corner from the edge of the six-yard box. The Gabon forward made it five as the 90 minutes ticked over, firing low into the bottom corner with the Fulham defence absent.
In the away end, those fans were having fun watching Arsenal again.
2. Lacazette becomes Arsenal's main man
The numbers themselves are impressive. Alexandre Lacazette now has four goals from five starts this season, and in the calendar year only Aubameyang has been directly involved in more goals than Lacazette: 14 scored, four assists.
But it's more the manner in which he has scored those goals that makes Lacazette's form so impressive. For a long time, Arsenal were missing a killer, a finisher who would take his chances decisively and with economy of effort.
Lacazette certainly looks like that player now, his two goals in this game scored at least in part because he took his shots just early enough for both defence and goalkeeper to be surprised by them.
Both finishes were crisp, both free of flourish but both incredibly effective. He looks a natural goal scorer, and you could make an argument that he's Arsenal's most important player at the moment.
Unai Emery is still presiding over a work in progress: work that is progressing pretty well, but his job is made an awful lot easier by a striker in prime form.
Lucas Torreira may well challenge him for that title at some point: The Uruguayan midfielder feels like exactly the sort of player Arsenal have needed for a while, a midfielder of quiet efficiency who breaks up play of opponents and sets it up for his own team.
Either way, with both Lacazette and Torreira in this sort of form, Arsenal have great reason for optimism.
3. Fulham know they have a real battle on
In his prematch news conference, Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic casually reminded everyone that he's not the man responsible for signing players, emphasising that he is the head coach rather than manager.
He didn't say this to complain, and it's undoubtedly a more sensible way of doing things than allowing your transfer policy to be controlled by the whims of one man, who might not even be around for the full length of those signings' contracts.
But one wonders if, were Jokanovic in charge of recruitment, he would have signed quite so many players in the summer. They brought in 12 after promotion from the Championship, meaning their team and more importantly squad is stronger, but equally it complicates things in the short-term for the man in charge.
Jokanovic is still piecing this Fulham side together, eight games into the season. It's not necessarily a problem if he doesn't know what his best starting XI is, because in modern football there might not be such a thing. But it might be a problem that he hasn't/hasn't been able to even pick the same defence twice this term, never mind the same team.
It might feel like these are early days, but we are already a fifth of the way into the season, and Fulham are still finding their feet. Ultimately, that could prove extremely damaging.