Arsenal vs. Fulham: 6 Things We Learned
The Cottagers went into the game with the worst defensive record in the Premier League, but they remained firm at the back for most of the game. As long as Arsenal took a slow and contemplative approach to attacking, Rene Meulensteen's side could deal with most threats.
But Arsene Wenger obviously said something inspiring to his side at halftime, and the Gunners stormed out of the tunnel for the second half with a purpose. After tremendous pressure, Fulham broke twice, allowing Santi Cazorla to score a brace and allow Arsenal to hold on for the victory.
Here are six things we learned from the match.
Serge Gnabry Has No Fear
For an 18-year-old who barely has any first-team appearances to his name and is still proving himself to Arsene Wenger, Serge Gnabry played with a remarkable degree of confidence and impetus.
The rest of the team should take a cue from the precocious youngster. Gnabry had no compunction about having a go at goal from long range or drifting out of position to create for others.
Whereas Mesut Ozil was languid and calculating in his play, Gnabry attempted to put his hand on Fulham's throat from the opening whistle. His long-range efforts were not even close to being successful, but he worked himself into good positions and had the moxie to try his luck.
Imagine what he'll do when he is more mature.
Arsenal Never Make It Easy
It figures that Arsenal would allow the worst defensive team in the Premier League to establish a foothold in the game during the first half and leave themselves with all their work to do in the second period.
That just seems to be the Gunners' way against opponents who are obviously inferior in every measurable category. They showed their quality when they had to, but the game should have been a much more relaxed affair.
Arsenal won and took all three points in what was, in the end, a fairly convincing performance. That is ultimately all that matters. But until Arsene Wenger can turn off Arsenal's infamous "handbrake," they will continue to have problems against elite teams.
Arsenal Need to Attack with More Purpose
As the man at the fulcrum of Arsenal's attack, Mesut Ozil sets its tempo and acts as the chief distributor of the ball. The German's cool, contemplative method of creation is his trademark, but cannot be projected onto multiple forwards.
The result is a midfield attack that is at times much too slow and deliberate and does not assault defenses with the requisite speed or decisiveness.
Fulham were usually able to dig in at the back and thwart the likes of Ozil and Jack Wilshere when they spent several seconds on the ball and waited for a chance to materialize. Even when counterattacking opportunities arose, they slowed play down to the team's detriment.
Arsenal Still Need to Finish Their Chances Better
To expand a bit on the previous slide's point: Arsenal will not be able to consistently knock off big opponents unless they are more clinical in and around the penalty box.
Mesut Ozil's early run into the box is the exemplar of Arsenal's profligacy in front of goal. He beautifully skipped past a defender and into the six-yard box after receiving a well-weighted pass and promptly tried to pass the ball, rather than having a shot.
He's an Arsenal man through and through.
Contrast that with Manchester City's ruthless attacking attitude and their surgical precision going forward. That is indicative of a title-winning side.
Fulham Put in the Requisite Effort
Though Arsenal's quality ultimately decided the game, Fulham deserve a mention for their doggedness in midfield and defense.
When the Gunners turned up the pressure, the Cottagers dug in more. They also made the most of the possession they had, engineering a few threatening counterattacks that occasionally troubled Wojciech Szczesny.
Their attitude compensated for their relative lack of quality and made their defense, which was the leakiest in the league, seem considerably better than its record would indicate.
Santi Cazorla Vindicated Arsene Wenger's Faith
After Santi Cazorla put in several tepid and mistake-filled performances in a row, many fans called for the Spaniard to be replaced by Lukas Podolski, who has impressed in the relatively few cameos he's received since returning from injury.
Of course, Arsene Wenger ignored supporters' gripes and his decision-making was once again vindicated.
There was no more of the uncharacteristic sloppiness that has characterized Cazorla's play this season. Instead, his feet were as fleet and precise as ever as he flummoxed Fulham's defenders with multiple feints, fakes and turns.
His goalscoring touch, which made his talismanic play last season so impressive, returned in impressive fashion. Podolski had a significant impact off the bench, but if Cazorla can continue to provide a goalscoring threat on the left, the German will find it difficult to break into the starting XI.