Arsenal got their Premier League season off and running with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Fulham at a rain-soaked Craven Cottage. Following a loss by the same scoreline at home to Aston Villa on the opening day last week, Arsene Wenger’s side were under pressure to get a result to not fall further behind the pace before what is expected to be a frantic last few days of the transfer window.
Arsenal appeared to take confidence from their 3-0 midweek win in Turkey against Fenerbahce as they took an early lead through Olivier Giroud and never looked back. Lukas Podolski got a second before the break to halt brief signs of a Fulham revival before the German, in his first start of the campaign, got his second midway through the second half. Substitute Darren Bent’s first goal for the club late on was never going to lead to a Fulham revival.
With Jack Wilshere’s fitness concerns only deeming him suitable for a place on the bench, a midfield three of Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla raised alarm bells about their ability to do the necessary work without the ball. In truth, with Ramsey again impressive, that never proved a concern. Indeed, it was the inability of Fulham’s midfield to get to grips with Arsenal that was the major factor.
On the sodden pitch, the match began cautiously, but it was the conditions that had a direct hand in the opening goal after 14 minutes. Not for the last time in the contest, new signing Scott Parker and midfield partner Steve Sidwell, left undermanned, were unable to step out and apply pressure to their counterparts. Ramsey was the man to take advantage on this occasion with a low shot that struck Giroud and held up perfectly in the rain for the French striker to get his third goal in as many games to start the campaign.
Fulham went forward with more impetus after going behind. But, with loan signing Bent starting on the bench, the home side had little to threaten an unfamiliar Arsenal backline, featuring Bacary Sagna at center-back. Another arrival on loan, Adel Taarabt, cutting in from his nominal position on the left, was the player most likely to make something happen for the hosts.
Just a couple of minutes after going behind, Taarabt fired a fierce shot from 20 yards that forced Wojciech Szczesny into a save but only to the feet of Damien Duff whose follow-up effort was met by an even better stop by the Arsenal keeper as he scrambled across the splashy surface.
The left side was Fulham’s best avenue for success, with left-back John Arne Riise also overlapping. The former Liverpool man should have done better than play an easily defendable ball across the box when played into the box.
But Fulham’s greater need to go forward, with Pajtim Kasami pushing up closer in support of Dimitar Berbatov, always looked liable to play into Arsenal’s hands on the break. So it proved for the crucial second goal four minutes before the break. This time it was Cazorla who found space 30 yards from goal and laid the ball into a wide open Theo Walcott on the right of the box. The winger’s effort was blocked away by David Stockdale but it was met by Podolski on the edge of the box with a fine effort to beat the covering defenders on the line.
Fulham attempted to be more compact after the break and going forward Taarabt again tested Szczesny with a solid effort. It was a surprise when the man on-loan from Queens Park Ranger was taken off as Jol tried to change things with the introduction of Bent and Alexander Kacaniklic.
Still, it was a familiar story as Arsenal put the result beyond doubt in the 68th minute. Another counter-attack did the damage, this time with Cazorla tricking his way down the left of the box before laying it back to Podolski who took a touch before drilling a shot low into the far corner.
On the day where Craven Cottage welcomed new owner Shahid Khan, there was something for the Fulham fans to cheer with a goal back for the home side with 13 minutes remaining. The strike was all about the ability of Berbatov as he controlled the ball with a defender at his back before instantly turning and firing a cross-come shot that Szczesny could only palm straight out for Bent to grab the kind of poacher’s goal with which he has become synonymous.
It never looked like being anything more than a consolation strike and, indeed, if any team was going to add another goal late on it looked likely to be the visitors.