Arsenal recorded their ninth win in a row on Sunday afternoon, and their sixth in the Premier League, after dismantling an incredibly disappointing Fulham side at Craven Cottage.
The pre-match headlines were dominated by the surprising exclusion of both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Aaron Ramsey from Arsenal’s starting eleven, but the headlines now will be dominated by those two for all the right reasons, as they both came off the bench to heavily contribute to a late flurry of goals.
The groundwork had been set by Alexandre Lacazette, scoring two as the lone-striker before the sixty-minute mark, which had put Arsenal 2-1 ahead before a disastrous Fulham collapse which saw them undone by the pace and creativity of Arsenal’s superstars arriving from the bench.
Fulham scored a lovely goal in André Schürrle’s composed chip finish on the stroke of half-time but have now conceded the most goals of any team in the Premier League this season, with twenty-one goals conceded in eight games – a truly unacceptable statistic for them considering how much money was spent in the summer.
Arsenal still have trouble playing from the back – but their strikers are making that irrelevant
Many of Arsenal’s wins this season have been overshadowed by this team’s insistence to play slowly from the defence to the attack, and the trouble that has come their way when attempting to do so. Petr Cech, in particular, has come under heavy-scrutiny after a series of errors that were left unpunished and with him injured the new German signing Bernd Leno looks slightly more composed in completing his passing duties.
Yet the defence around him are still making errors in playing passes, short or long, from the back, with Nacho Monreal making a costly one in this encounter which led to Fulham scoring their equaliser. Despite these issues for Arsenal, their attack is so devastating when everything clicks together and after a display like this, they have once again bailed their defence out of particular scrutiny.
Aaron Ramsey’s impact should prompt a rethink from the Arsenal hierarchy
Eyebrows across the land were raised in unison when it was reported that talks between Arsenal and Aaron Ramsey over a new contract had broken down completely in recent weeks, not to be reopened, meaning either a January sale or a free transfer in summer were the only options left for the player and the club. The reasons given for this were that Ramsey was demanding too much money and that Unai Emery had decided the player did not fully fit his preferred system anyway.
One performance is unlikely to change a decision as important as this but perhaps it should; thirty eight seconds after coming off the bench Ramsey had scored one of the best goals of the season, a brilliant team goal that he began near Fulham’s penalty area and ended with an outrageous flicked finish off Fulham’s far-post. Coming on and playing almost as a third striker, Ramsey also got an assist when setting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang away for his second goal, and with his long-standing injury problems seemingly behind him it, appears a mightily big risk for Arsenal to let a player of his talent go so easily.
The state of Fulham’s defence is untenable – a formation change wasn’t the solution
Fulham started the day having the third worst defence in the league and finished it having the very worst; twenty-one goals conceded is now four more than both Huddersfield and Cardiff, neither of whom have won a Premier League game yet this season.
Slaviša Jokanović changed the formation to a 3-4-3 today, which was designed to continue their threat in wide areas while also having both Ryan Sessegnon and Cyrus Christie dropping from wing-back positions to help the defence out. The system proved effective at pressing high against Arsenal’s error-prone defenders but left an extraordinary amount of space for Arsenal’s attackers at the other end – Cyrus Christie’s lackadaisical attempt at running back to defend for Arsenal’s first goal epitomised the problem.
Perhaps the biggest issue for Fulham is a dawning realisation that they may have prioritised the wrong areas in the transfer market, shown by the fact that four of the five defenders in today’s new formation were also playing for the club in the Championship. Even though Fulham were playing a system that accommodated three centre-backs, the 16 million pound signing Alfie Mawson could not make it into the team; a damning indictment of his start to the season. Fulham have to find a way to make this defence work before the January transfer-window comes around, which seems a very long way away at the moment.
What promised to be an excellent and closely-fought game turned into a routine battering by a highly-impressive Arsenal, who are starting to really shine in attacking areas to back up this long sequence of wins. Fulham won’t have to play a team of this calibre and talent every week in the Premier League but that will be of little comfort to their fans; they are now officially the worst defensive team in the league as it stands, and Slaviša Jokanović must find a solution over the international break before his position begins to be discussed as being under threat.
Man of the Match – Alexander Lacazette
The designation of this award was made trickier than expected after two devastating cameo appearances off the bench from Aaron Ramsay and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but their introductions to the game were made when Fulham were sacrificing space and men further up the pitch in an attempt to get back into the match, making it perfect conditions for speedy substitutes.
The groundwork for these introductions was made solely by Alexander Lacazette, who led the line on his own for the first sixty minutes of the game and scored two excellent goals in the process. With Unai Emery deeming Aubameyang’s skills as being more suited to the role of a winger, Lacazette is now Arsenal’s premium striker and is cementing himself as an invaluable member of the team. The touch to set his first was only matched by the audacity and ambition of his long-range second – an excellent display all round from the French forward.