By Richard Clarke
Arsenal kept up the pressure at the top of the Premier League with an excellent 3-0 win at Fulham on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger's side had slipped to second place last week after a disappointing draw with Birmingham at Emirates Stadium. However there were no slip-ups this afternoon. Emmanuel Adebayor gave the visitors a stranglehold with a pair superb first-half headers - his 14th and 15th goals of the season.
Fulham rallied briefly in the second period but nine minutes from time Tomas Rosicky slid in a fine volley at the far post.
The scoreline did not flatter Arsenal however this was more of a measured than memorable performance.
For much of the afternoon it appeared this could be a significant day in the title race. In the end Manchester United and Chelsea both got late winners. But, after the sluggishness of last week, this was Arsenal at their efficient best.
All they could do was win themselves and they did that with something to spare.
Wenger made just one change from the side held to a 1-1 draw by Birmingham City last Saturday. Rosicky had fallen ill on the morning of that game, his replacement that day, Theo Walcott, made way this afternoon.
It meant the Arsenal manager named the strongest line-up he had available. It was no surprise because, for only the second week since mid-September, Arsenal were playing catch-up in the table.
Fulham had been showing signs of regeneration under Roy Hodgson. However they came into this game with only struggling Derby below them in the table. Neither of their two new signings - Marlon King and Brede Hangeland - were eligible today.
The opening was typical of a London derby. But the pace was so fast that perhaps it affected the quality.
Fulham gave as good as they got in the opening quarter. Danny Murphy's clever ball sent Seol Ki-Hyeon clear for a split-second but there was danger at the other end when Adebayor's clipped cross into the area nearly found the head of Eduardo.
However gradually Arsenal started to put their passing together. One flowing move in the 16th minute ended with Fabregas blazing wide. The final execution was poor but the build-up had been encouraging. So it was no a huge surprise to see Arsenal take the lead three minutes later.
Rosicky sent Clichy scuttling to the byline and his high, hanging cross was nodded home powerfully by the leaping Adebayor on the edge of the six-yard box. It was the Togolese striker's 14th of the season.
The goal tipped the game in Arsenal's favour. Suddenly Fulham looked inhibited and Arsenal looked imperious. Still, chances were at a premium and the visitors came closest to extending their lead when Adebayor sidefooted wide in the 27th minute.
The 24-year-old was proving simply too big, too strong and too mobile for the home side. His second goal followed seven minutes from the break. Hleb's inviting cross saw Adebayor breeze in and guide a similar header into the same corner of the net.
Again it was a goal conceded far too easily by Fulham but the real driver behind the strike had been Arsenal's willingness to fight to regain a lost ball on the right flank.
With a two-goal advantage, the visitors were now prepared to hit cruise-control. The vociferous travelling support even start some early olès. However Fulham finally produced a decent shot across their bows three minutes from the whistle when Simon Davies reached the byline and cut the ball back for Murphy to sidefoot over.
Hodgson attempted to put further impetus into his side at the break by hauling Jimmy Bullard off the bench. The popular midfielder, who is yet to start a game since his horrific knee injury, came on to a huge reception.
However it did nothing to change the tide. Within four minutes of the restart Bacary Sagna nearly touched home a free-kick from Cesc Fabregas. Then Eduardo beat two defenders with some sublime skill on the left-hand byline. Rosicky met his low cross to the near post but his snapshot hit the outside of the post.
Arsenal were unsettled somewhat soon afterwards when Senderos needed treatment after getting a bash on the nose from Clint Dempsey.
Their concentration drifted a little bit and that loosened their grip on the game. Fulham fired another warning midway through the half when Dempsey nodded in at the far post. However the assistant referee had long-since flagged for offside.
Later Antti Niemi also required lengthy treatment after Adebayor caught him in the face following through.
Twelve minutes from time, Fabregas nearly prodded a third goal in the corner but Bullard responded by curling a free-kick well over the bar.
To be honest the visitors had started the game sprinting but, as the minutes ticked away, Arsenal seemed happy to coast over the line.
That said, they did conjure up a lovely third goal nine minutes from the end when Eduardo worked himself into space on the left byline and the flying Rosicky fired in a low volley at the far post.
- Clichy Yellow Card
- Rosicky Goal!
- Adebayor Goal! Goal!
- Smertin 78
- Davis 45
- Seol 62
- Bullard 45
- Kuqi 78
- Healy 62