Arsenal turn frustration into delight to stay top of the table


Something special is stirring. It was not pretty, and for long periods it was ineffective. But in the end, strikes from Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Magalhaes sealed a come-from-behind victory that ensured Arsenal ended the weekend at the Premier League summit.

t was in the equivalent week last year — international breaks aside — that Mikel Arteta’s side narrowly defeated newly promoted opposition. That result arguably saved him his job.

Twelve months later, times are very different.

Defeat was a little harsh on Fulham, who, having been unceremoniously dumped out of the Carabao Cup midweek by the EFL’s bottom side, had a more than passable stab at the team at the polar opposite end.

They had even dared go ahead through Aleksandar Mitrovic’s second-half strike, his 100th in Fulham colours.

A Championship cheat code, many felt Mitrovic was not cut out for top-flight life. With four in four, Mitrovic has already bettered his tally from last time around.

Despite declaring a clean bill of health on Friday, Arteta, in his 100th Premier League game as Arsenal manager, was forced to tinker with his starting line-up for the first time this season.

Thomas Partey and Oleksandr Zinchenko dropped out with a tight thigh and knee sprain, respectively, meaning Kieran Tierney and Mohamed Elneny came in.

Marco Silva welcomed back Neeskens Kebano, with Jay Stansfield making way in the one change from the side that defeated Brentford. That meant Bernd Leno, who kept 26 clean sheets in a Jekyll-and-Hyde four years at Arsenal, retained his place.

For all Arsenal’s first-half possession, of which there was plenty, they missed last weekend’s clinical touch. Fulham absorbed pressure — perhaps not deliberately so — but Leno’s only save of note was a smother from Bukayo Saka, who had raced clear, having inadvertently been played in by Tim Ream. Leno may have felt slight palpitations, though, when Gabriel Martinelli’s corner struck the bar.

At times Arsenal perhaps overplayed. Take a clipped round-the-bend through ball from Odegaard that few would have seen, let alone administered, which sent Gabriel Jesus racing down the right, for example.

Jesus initially appeared to have held on for too long but did find Saka. Rather than strike first time, though, as the crowd implored, Saka tried to be too neat and Tosin Adarabioyo’s toe prevented him from reaching the “two” following his “one” with Odegaard.

Arsenal’s captain had earlier curled a cross from the right touchline that Jesus controlled neatly. With his second touch, he teed up Granit Xhaka, who missed the target.

Fulham’s pre-break excursions into Arsenal territory were limited, Palhinha and Bobby Decordova-Reid both off target from crosses.

And, rather than the usual way around, it was Aaron Ramsdale who tested Mitrovic. The goalkeeper’s clearance struck Mitrovic clean in the face, felling him. Naturally, the Serbian got to his feet, roared and continued. By the interval, there was a tinge of north London frustration building.

Mitrovic began the second period again on the floor, his heels clipped by William Saliba as he turned. There was fire in the eyes.

But Arsenal continued to pour forward. Martinelli dispossessed Kenny Tete, leading to Odegaard stinging Leno’s palms from outside the box. Jesus and Xhaka exchanged passes, but the former’s shot was held comfortably. Up they stood for The Arsenal.

And then immediately down they sat. Gabriel dallied and Mitrovic nicked in on the edge of the area before slotting past Ramsdale.

Visiting excitement was short-lived, though. Odegaard, this time, got his shot away early, the ball deflecting off the unfortunate Adarabioyo to wrongfoot Leno.

Fulham were not, as they could easily have been, deflated, with Ramsdale then having to be alert to keep Mitrovic’s stooping header out. The home fans roared with appreciation; there is full buy-in from this crowd now.

Once more, Arsenal rallied, Eddie Nketiah injecting energy from the bench. He first cut inside and flashed wide with his left before poking Martinelli’s cross straight at Leno.

Martinell’s fierce goal-bound effort looked to be curling in but for Adarabioyo’s head. Then finally, persistence paid off. From a corner, Leno missed his punch and Gabriel bundled home. Arteta had his 53rd Premier League victory.

© Observer

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