Now that’s a scoreline you don’t see too often. Or expect to see. This was entirely deserved. By far the best performance of the season. If not of the last couple of years.
It’s rare that I want to enthuse so much but today was genuinely enjoyable. We were finally fun to watch. I think I might even have smiled during this game. Unheard of I know. This was one of our most comprehensive victories in years. Especially given our previous years away results. Total domination. You can only beat what’s in front of you. Fulham are No Chelski. But then nor are we.
Credit to Leno. His early save off the deflected shot after a lazy giveaway was, in hindsight, a turning point. Not only a great reaction save but all day long he was pretty clam with excellent distribution.
Today it’s going to be hard to find anything too negative about our players and our performance. So this will be an entirely uncritical lauding our the performance and result.
So, let’s lead with the best. That would be Cigarette. He was on fire the entire game. Two vital and impressively taken goals – both of which demonstrate different skills. One opportunistic within the box and then the all important second goal from distance. He’s all round game today was excellent; working hard off the ball to win the ball back and then he’s passing and flicks. Today he perfectly led the line. I love this guy. He’s getting more confident and just improving with every game. His goals this year have provided way more pivotal than last years. His opportunism is reminiscent of a certain TH14.
Torreira was excellent today; nearly as good as Cigarette. It was good to hear our fans cheer his name along to the old Viera tune. He deserves it. If anyone has changed the balance and impact on this team it’s our little Uruguayan. He is our Konte; our own version of Makelele. Finally, someone who provides a spine to our team. He was tenacious and hard working. Our only player who can win a 50:50 challenge. Wrap him in cotton wall because, for us, he’s one of a kind.
So that’s three quarters of the backbone of our team. The last piece of the puzzle is the defense. And Holding had another impressive outing. A couple of poor passes aside he’s earning the right to retain his position alongside Mustafa. He was OK today but you know that mistake is just around the corner.
Monreal did not have his best game today. He gave the ball away for their goal. And was indecisive in defending. Funnily enough one of the other contributors today provided him with good protection. I can’t believe I’m going to praise Ob1 but today he earned it. Still some stupid passes and he still can’t win tackles. But he’s attacking play continues to improve. He made their right center half look like an idiot a number of times. He created our first goal and was a threat the entire game. So much so that I did not think he should have come off for Ramsey today. I was concerned when I saw both him and Wellbeck in the starting eleven today. But, against Fulham, I should not have worried. Welbeck was quiet but Ob1 was impressive.
Interestingly, though we had some outstanding individual performances today, the more noticeable change was the balance of the team. Without both Ozil and Ramsey and with Obameyang also on the bench, the team look more settled. Everyone was playing in their preferred position. Mikatarien was leaving Bellerin somewhat exposed but generally his creativity overcome those deficiencies. Xhaka had a ton of time on the ball and was able to pull the strings without having to worry about too much defensively.
And when Ramsey did come on he was instrumental in the buildup and execution of that classic Arsenal goal. From front to back it was silky smooth and tore Fulham apart. Aubameyang then scored a couple of Cigarette-like goals; the first one in particular. He would be more effective in that position if it weren’t for Cigarette. Going forward – again, without Ozil – we were so quick and incisive. It was nearly like a throwback Arsenal team – to those days a decade ago where we could enjoy our skill and teamwork.
I know it’s only Fulham and we’re certainly not as good as we looked today. Against top 4 teams we’ll still come off second best. But today we showed real signs of progress. We have developed. And sure, we still have a long way to go. We can’t stand toe-to-toe with Man City, Liverpool or Chelski. But we are evolving. We still need to refine out spine. We need to offload Mustafa. We need to donate him to charity. Once Kosclieny comes back that might be our chance. But Holding is looking like a better bet than our resident German Silverstre.
Leno is also settling into the team quite nicely. He was key to our win today. That initial save gave us time to get to grips with the pace of the game. Starting from a one goal deficit would have change the entire complexion of this game.
So, credit to Emery for his selection. I was nervous when I saw that starting 11 but the balance and team work was as good as we’ve seen during his limited reign. There is still much work to be done but at least the platform is there and being improved. The control of the ball was superior and the playing out from the back worked well today. Yes, against a better team, we’ll screw up a ton more but today was one to be enjoyed. It was as pleasurable as I can remember. And unexpected.
Now we head off into another ridiculous two week international break. How I hate this disruption to the flow of the season. It’s so unnecessary and just there to line the pockets of FIFA and the international associations. Let’s hope Torreira does not pick up any injury. Let’s prey for Cigarette. The fixture list won’t be as kind to us when they return. But it’s time we started to test ourselves against proper teams. We have the framework of a decent team and now we need to stress test it against a higher caliber team. And we can do this without the pressure of Emery needing to collect points to take off any pressure. It’s remarkable really to think how different his experience has been to say, Moyes, who was always under pressure after a crappy start. These points, against these weaker teams, helps alleviate any pressure on him and allows us to focus on building and learning. If we’d have lost that game against West Ham when they should have gone 2-0 up in the first half the pressure would have been tortuous. But thankfully we’ve dodged that bullet. It has allowed for a smoother, more peaceful transition of power. For that we should consider ourselves fortunate. I would guess that 90%+ of our fans are happy with our new manager. We are in a position now where even if we endure a poor run of results we’d still not second guess the choice of manager. And we should be grateful for the avoidance of that particular drama.
This smile should just about last me through this two week period.