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This season has had an inordinate amount of games that you can file under Matches We Would Have Lost or Drawn Last Season. This season, Arsenal have won damn near all of them.
It did not look like it would be our day for much of the first half though, with the visitors often looking the side more likely to score. However, we could have put them on the back foot much earlier. A superb flowing move saw Mesut Ozil with room to strike the ball in the penalty area. He had the right idea, going back across the body of keeper Maarten Stekelenburg. Sadly, he scuffed his shot badly enough to allow Brede Hangeland to clear.
Despite that, I would like to state for the record that whenever I see someone on message boards or social media who slags off Ozil, I immediately write them off as someone whose opinion is not worth noting. He has done well despite the expectation that comes with his price tag, not to mention the significant differences between La Liga and the Premier League. Please believe that we haven't seen the best of our Really Expensive German yet.
That aside, Fulham pulled themselves back into the match and even bossed possession from time to time. Rather than opt for quick counters though, they seemed content to hold the ball and give their defense a breather whenever possible. It wasn't a bad gameplan, especially given how poorly Arsenal's passing and touch were as the half wore on. Clearly, they were banking on chances coming their way off of a broken play or an error from the Arsenal backline.
They weren't able to fashion a large number of them, but Steve Sidwell could have scored in the 26th minute. Bacary Sagna's clearing header from a corner kick went only as far as the former Arsenal youngster on the edge of the area. His volley was sweetly struck, but it was a comfortable height for Wojceich Szczesny in the Arsenal goal. The Pole's rebound control was excellent though as he parried it well out to safety.
Speaking of Sagna, there was one moment in the first half that exhibited one of the last remaining flaws in the makeup of this Arsenal team. Ashkan Dejagah's run down the wing was checked by a brilliant sliding tackle from the braided one. The Iranian winger went down claiming an injury, clearly trying to buy a free kick from the referee. Sagna, in turn, played it right out into touch.
Thought exercise: Would any other big club do so in that situation? Sometimes, we are too damned nice and too damned honorable. I don't know if that lack of killer instinct will come back to bite us against better opposition. It would be nice if we could win things playing so honorably, but usually winners will step on your throat if they have to.
Anyway, Dejagah was in the thick of it again a few minutes later. The excellent Sascha Reither beat Nacho Monreal and played in a fabulous through-ball. Szczesny was alert to the danger though, and smothered at his feet. Great keeping.
That kicked off a bit of a keeper duel, as Szczesny again has to quickly smother a chance when Dimitar Berbatov played in Alexander Kacaniklic. Stekelenburg, not to be outdone, brilliantly stopped Sagna on the back post off a free kick scramble. Later, he almost pulled an Artur Boruc with Olivier Giroud in attendance, but his Cryuff turn was better executed and he managed to clear the danger. Serge Gnabry was the next to try, cutting in from the right and getting a hard shot away. The Dutch stopper did well to parry, though.
Arsenal's tails were up now, though, and there was an air of inevitability around the eventual result. The Gunners won a free kick, taken by Cazorla. It was curled beautifully to the back post, Sagna again there to receive. Stekelenburg brilliantly got a piece, and the rebound was cleared out by Premier League debutant Dan Burn. Gnabry's follow-up was also blocked.
Some of our teams in years past may have succumbed to frustration at this point. This lot, though, put their heads down and continued to press. That hard work was rewarded just one minute later.
Monreal began the move, sending Cazorla cantering down the left. Santi cut in, and passed to Giroud. The HFB one-touched it out left to Jack Wilshere. The Fulham defense tried to swarm Jack, but Wilshere was able to cut it back to the center despite a 1-on-4 disadvantage. That left Cazorla with ages to receive the ball and curl it around Stekelenburg's dive.
Once the Gunners got the first one, there was not an iota of doubt about the result from that point on.
Along with the increased defensive resilience and improved mental stability, another theme of the season has been our offense scoring goals in bunches. It must be daunting for opposing defenses to have to play against our attackers when they're in the mood, especially right after conceding one.
Arsenal poured forward after the first, Monreal again starting the play. His cross was cleared out by Hangeland, but only as far as Cazorla at the edge of the area. Santi took a touch and then hit a low screamer through the forest of bodies in the penalty area. Stekelenburg, unsighted until it was too late, had no prayer of saving it.
The job mostly done, the Gunners then went largely into lead-protection mode, keeping Fulham at bay with a minimum of fuss. That's not to say that there weren't a few more chances, though. Lukas Podolski came on for Gnabry and almost immediately tested Stekelenburg with a left-footed rasper. The keeper did fantastically well to touch it onto the post. Up the other end, the substitute Darren Bent almost scored his 12 millionth goal against us, but Szczesny did just enough to put him off.
Speaking of: For me, there is a serious argument that Wojceich Szczeny has been the best goalkeeper in the division this season.
The match mostly petered out after that, but Cazorla still had time to almost add an assist to his haul for the day. His run and cross from the left side were perfect, but the returning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could only head over the bar.
No matter, though. No matter how many matches our rivals win, we continue to set the pace in the Premier League at the moment. There will come a day where we'll have to dig deep and finally give a good account of ourselves against a side like Chelsea or United or City - but until then, as long as we keep getting results against the midtable teams I'll feel confident about that happening.
Onwards and upwards.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings
Szczesny 8, Monreal 7, Koscielny 8, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 8, Flamini 7, Wilshere 7, Cazorla 9, Ozil 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A), Gnabry 7 (Podolski 7), Giroud 7
Man of the Match: There really is only one choice, is there? Despite a barnstorming performance from Sagna, another boss-like defensive effort from Laurent Koscielny and the brilliant keeping from Szczesny, Santi Cazorla is the runaway winner.