Fulham 1-3 Arsenal: Raining Goals

The result at a rain-lashed Craven Cottage may have been similar to that at the Şükrü Saracoğlu in midweek, but if anything the performance from the side was even better. Fulham were not great, but they did put up a decent fight at times and were a far more significant challenge then Fenerbache were. Still, the Gunners passed them off the park in a virtuoso 75-minute evisceration.

Arsene made one change to the lineup that played so well in Istanbul - Lukas Podolski came in for Jack Wilshere, with Santi Cazorla shifting to the Englishman's central position. Both men gave the manager a ton of happy selection problems to work out as the North London Derby looms at the weekend, the Spaniard especially brilliant in the proverbial "free role".

Fulham boss Martin Jol may have taken the Fener result too much to heart, as the Cottagers set out their stall to all-out defend in the early going. Even Dimitar Berbatov was putting in a shift in his own half of the field at times, but it gave Arsenal time and space to get the passing game going. The Gunners duly obliged, and displayed some wonderful one-touch football, full of precision and confidence. Several times, the defense and goalkeeper escaped danger by calmly playing the ball out of the back in cases where a more desperate clearance might be expected.

Simply put, Arsenal were lethal with the ball at their feet in this match.

One talking point before the match was the injury to new Fulham keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, leaving David Stockdale to deputize. Stockdale did have a handful of Premier League appearances under his belt previously and managed all right, but our guys would still have wanted to challenge him early. That they did, with Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud both testing him in the opening exchanges.

He did fine there, but will be disappointed in his reaction time when we opened the scoring a few minutes later. A long spell of Arsenal possession led to Aaron Ramsey firing one from distance (we've been markedly more willing to do that this season so far). The ball hit Giroud, who was onside despite the appeals from the hosts. The maxim "play to the whistle" has rarely been as true as it was here, as Giroud took advantage of the Fulham players' slackness to go in alone on Stockdale. The keeper should have been far more alert to the danger, and quicker to dive at the Frenchman's feet. Don't get me wrong, it was a fine finish and opportunistic from Giroud, but Stekelenburg probably keeps that out.

Fair play to Fulham, the goal against galvanized them and they started holding onto the ball far better. Were it not for the excellence of Wojciech Szczesny, they would have hit us back with an immediate equalizer. John Arne Riise made one of his characteristic barnstorming runs down the left (which would later give us acres to operate in down that flank, since we're on the topic) and lashed a low shot on goal. Szczesny was down quickly to palm it away, and then was back up in a flash to block Damien Duff's follow-up shot with his trailing leg. The second save was even better than the first, and massively important at that stage of the contest.

The Cottagers were on top though, and fashioned several more chances. A dangerous free kick was repelled by a combination of the wall and Szczesny, then Adel Tarrabt fired wide when others were better placed. The Gunners' back line coped well though, Bacary Sagna playing admirably in what may now be his best position at center-half.

Towards the end of the half, Fulham had overextended themselves a bit, and a devastating counter-attack from Arsenal gave us a 2-0 lead. Riise had again bombed forward with his winger failing to drop back in support, and the fantastic Santi Cazorla made them pay with a tremendous pass into space on the right. Walcott collected on the go, and went for his trademark across-the-keeper finish. Stockdale did well to parry to relative safety, but nobody picked up Podolski lurking at the edge of the area. The Medium Sized German hit an absolute howitzer of a shot through a forest of bodies and into the net before Stockdale could recover. Those goals at the beginning or end of a half are killers, and went a long way towards locking down the three points.

A separate word about Cazorla, before I continue. Even in the wake of an incomplete preseason and the resulting lack of match fitness, he has already approached close to his best form. He was a wizard on the ball, all tricks and flicks and passing lanes that human beings just shouldn't be able to recognize that quickly. Sometimes I have a tendency to focus on the negative overmuch, so let me state for the record that it is an honor and a privilege to watch Santiago Cazorla play professional football for the team I love.

That said, Jol's hairdryer must have been in good working condition as the home side took it to Arsenal in the second half. Szczesny again had to be excellent to keep out a low drive, this time from Taarabt. Berbatov followed that by getting in his own teammate's way in a promising area, and the Gunners made Fulham pay for their wastefulness a few minutes later.

Cazorla was the creator once again, his run down the wing causing Fulham to collapse into their own penalty area. Once again, no one thought to mark Podolski at the edge of the area, and Carzorla got it out to him. Poldi took a touch and then hammered an unstoppable shot low into the far corner. Two goals on two vicious strikes - not a bad day for the German.

The match was over as a contest, and Arsene duly started subbing off some of our impact players. Jack Wilshere and Nacho Monreal got run-outs, and young Yaya Sanogo made his league debut towards the end. The changes and the scoreline contributed to a drop in Arsenal's play, allowing the hosts to bag a consolation goal. Berbatov's turn and shot was too quick for Per Mertesacker, but Szczesny got just enough of a hand on it to keep it out. Sadly, he did not get the clean sheet he deserved, as Carl Jenkinson fell asleep on the back post. Darren Bent was standing just off his shoulder, and got enough separation to get there first and tap into the empty net.

That aside, we can and should be extremely pleased with how the side has performed in the last two games. The post-Villa gloom has receded under a hail of goals and two excellent showings. Get some squad depth in here at defense and midfield and we might just make some noise in this league.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8: Another excellent game. Several strong saves, and did not deserve to concede.

Gibbs 8: Tormented the Fulham defense down the left flank all game long.

Mertesacker 7:  Did what he had to with a minimum of fuss.

Sagna 7: Seems to have taken to the CB position well.

Jenkinson 6: Had some good crosses and did well in general, but was badly at fault for the goal.

Cazorla 9: An absolute joy to watch. He was right in the middle of all of our best attacking moves throughout the match.

Ramsey 7: Not quite as sharp as in the last two games, but did well.

Podolski 8: Made a real statement to the boss about staying in the lineup for the NLD. He won't give you much defensively but he's a predator when half a chance presents itself.

(Sanogo N/A):  Good to see the new man in action. The last few minutes of an emphatic win was the perfect time to put him on. 

Rosicky 7: Did fine, but was in and out of the game. Overshadowed by his teammates.

(Wilshere 6): Never really got into it, was needlessly booked to boot.

Walcott 8: Unlucky to not be on the scoresheet - Theo was a constant danger.

Giroud 8: Took his goal well, and gave us stellar hold-up play.

(Monreal 7): All about getting that match fitness back...

Man of the Match: Cazorla.