Santi Cazorla scored an eye-catching brace as Arsenal saw off a resolute Fulham side at Emirates Stadium on Saturday to maintain their lead in the Premier League.
The record books will suggest this was a ‘regulation’ 2-0 win but, for most of the afternoon, it seemed much tougher than that.
Fulham soaked up pressure for the first 15 minutes but, after that, forced Wojciech Szczesny into a number of crucial interventions.
However Arsenal prevailed and Cazorla struck twice in five minutes around the hour to secure the points. The second was the best; struck sweetly from just outside the area. It was enough to secure the points.
Arsenal were tested this afternoon but, once again, their organisation and solidity at the back provided the platform for patience going forward. This was not a day where Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud or Jack Wilshere stood out, in fact Serge Gnabry and, of course, Cazorla caught the eye.
However that is what is takes to win a title; someone stepping up in each and every game.
Arsenal are a long way from May but they have been top every week but one since September 14.
They are still the team to catch.
SETTING THE SCENE
Nacho Monreal had recovered sufficiently from his foot injury at Villa Park to retain his place in the Arsenal side.
Tomas Rosicky was also passed to play after suffering a broken nose on Monday. But if he were to appear from the bench he would be wearing a protective mask.
Meanwhile Gnabry started his third successive game.
It all meant Wenger named an unchanged side.
Szcznesy made his 100th Premier League appearance for the Club. Only the fourth keeper to achieve the feat.
Fulham came to Emirates Stadium in patchy form and having conceded 11 more goals than any other team in the Premier League. Arsenal were top.
You can understand why the visitors began defending deeply at the start.
They conceded possession and territory in the opening 15 minutes. Arsenal took up the invitation as they pressed with persistence.
The home carved out a number of half-chances – Giroud screwed a shot over, Cazorla’s drive was blocked, Gnabry fired wide.
But the clearest opportunity was the earliest. In the fourth minute, Wilshere and Ozil played a one-two to release the German in the right-hand channel. His shot beat Maarten Stekelenburg but Brede Hangeland hooked the ball off the line.
However, as the half went on, Fulham grew in confidence, ventured forward and caused Arsenal trouble.
In the 26th minute, Dimitar Berbatov’s cross was headed away by Bacary Sagna at the far post. It found Steve Sidwell, who let fly from 25 yards out. Szczesny beat the ball away.
Soon after that the keeper had to race out to deny the galloping Ashken Dejagah.
As we approached half-time the game had evened up completely.
Seven minutes before the whistle, Cazorla’s free-kick was deflected to Sagna. His low drive through a avenue of legs was well-saved by Stekelenburg.
Again Fulham responded and Szczesny, who was having an excellent game, raced out to swipe the ball from the legs of Alexander Kacaniklic.
Within seconds of the restart Fulham showed they remained optimistic of a surprise win.
They won an early corner and Hangeland’s close-range header was just about snaffled clear.
This time, however, Arsenal’s response would be decisive. First, Gnabry’s dancing feet saw him cut in from the right and test Stekelenburg was a rasping cross-shot.
Seconds later the German was involved as the Fulham defence just about scrambled Sagna’s shot off the line. Laurent Koscielny blasted wide with the rebound.
Arsenal were building pressure and, in the 57th minute, it told.
Cazorla, on the left, found Giroud just outside the area. He played the ball back to out to Wilshere on the left edge of the box. The Englishman’s low cross was turned home expertly by his Spanish team-mate.
If that goal seemed to have broken Fulham’s resistance, the second in the 62nd minute left them in tatters.
Monreal’s cross was cushioned down by Cazorla with one touch just outside the area. His second touch was an accurate drive that found the far corner.
On 71 minutes, Wenger withdrew Gnabry for Lukas Podolski and the latter German nearly scored with his first two touches. His shot was blocked then shortly afterwards a trademark piledriver was touched onto the post by Stekelenburg.
By now Fulham were all but spent. They only revived in the dying minutes. First when substitute Darren Bent profited from a fortunate ricochet of Szczesny but slid the ball wide with the goal at his mercy.
With the final kick of the match, Pajtim Kasamu nearly forced a free-kick past Szczesny.
But by then Arsenal had the win and, with it, the lead in the Premier League table.
- Cazorla Goal! Goal!
- Ozil 85
- Gnabry 71
- Podolski 71
- Oxlade-Chamberlain 85
- Dejagah 68
- Kacaniklic 86
- Kasami 86
- Bent 68