Fulham Review: Five Star Arsenal

Fulham 1 – 5 Arsenal

There is a certain satisfaction in winning away from home which brings with it an added spring in your step. When you score four or more in these matches, it adds a zip to your step. Don’t let anyone drag you down by claiming “it was only Fulham”; you can only beat the opposition which is in front of you.

A brace each from Lacazette and Aubameyang each was topped off with the finest team goal since Jack Wilshere finished off that move against Norwich.

Aaron Ramsey’s goal, half-a-minute after he arrived as a second-half substitute, was exquisite. The move from the right side of the pitch in our own half through midfield and into the Fulham area had everything we want from our players. Quick feet, quick thinking and accurate attacking. Don’t let anyone kid you; that will be the goal of the season.

It was a better performance overall as well. I don’t think the scoreline flattered us. Fulham weren’t good and their weaknesses emerged in our strengths. An outstanding save from Leno aside, the first-half largely passed them by. Fulham offered little genuine attacking threat despite having 21 shots according to the statistics. Four, apparently, were on target and I’m struggling to remember them, to be honest, so god knows where the other 17 finished up. The garden of number 26, I should imagine.

You may think it was the best performance of the season; Unai Emery doesn’t. Pigeonholing isn’t his style; “I don’t think of this performance like it is the best,” he said before finishing up with something about “humility in the process”.

Me either. Football is about bragging rights and we’ll enjoy the moment of Tottenham make their best start to a Premier League season and still find themselves below us.

No Fatigue Here

All the talk beforehand of tiredness from travelling was rendered irrelevant as Arsenal quickly settled into the game. Mkhitaryan in the central role was involved heavily from the start, finding space and time to prompt as well as firing a rasping drive over a bar.

Meanwhile, Iwobi continued his good form from recent games. Neither showed signs of fatigue nor in fairness, did any of those who featured in Baku on Thursday.

The Ramsey goal, sandwiched between Lacazette’s pair and Aubameyang’s, provided a bridge to the past. It contained the spontaneity of the previous regime which lives on in spirit.

The other four? You could almost feel the instructions being barked on the training ground. There’s no necessity for the players to forget their instincts amid the structure of Unai Emery’s tactics.

However, we look more coherent in our play without the ball and that has to be a good thing. Defenders knowing where they are supposed to be – and more or less being there – is beginning to sink in. A big contribution to that is Lucas Torreira’s presence. His defensive diligence is rubbing off on Granit Xhaka with the pair working to cover the full-backs when they engage in a swashbuckling run forward.

The benchmark has now been set. We’ve seen how the team can play when it comes together so the real test is kicking on from here and making this the norm.

Some are suggesting this is an ‘under the radar’ title challenge; it’s a bit soon to make those claim, I’d say. We’ve clawed our way back into the top four. Before the heady heights of the top of the table are marked as territory to conquer, keeping our place in the top four is surely the order of the day?

Continue Improving

There’s nothing wrong with ambition. However, temper it with reality; finishing higher than last season is realistic. I wonder could we go to Anfield or the Etihad and grind out a goalless draw?

The boss agreed:

We lost the first two matches against Manchester City and Chelsea. When we are winning now, continuing in matches, we need to be in the same way. I think our mentality: calm, work, enjoy and enjoy working, together as one thing with our supporters like today. But improving individually, improving collectively and also finding our best performance in each match and the combinations with the players and the system also. Because, we need to continue improving and we can.

Unai Emery on whether the title is a realistic aim

There was plenty to enjoy about the game yesterday: carving Fulham open on the left for Lacazette’s first; that finish and Aubameyang’s were the goals of strikers full of confidence. But more than anything, it was the absence of harum-scarum defending.

We had Holding’s stray pass into space close to Xhaka which was poor, exacerbated by the Swiss being slow to realise what was happening. However, Leno and the back four were comfortable on the ball and confident passing it between each other. That’s a step up from before and something we need to maintain going forward; it underpins everything Emery is trying to achieve.

Whether we scale those heights remains to be seen. However, for a fortnight at least, it feels like we’re making genuine progress.

’til Tomorrow.

33 thoughts on “Fulham Review: Five Star Arsenal

  1. Great post as always YW. Fulham made it a little too easy for us at times. Not sure why Jokanovic took Ream off for. Certainly weakened them defensively. Great team performance. The goal we conceded took a little bit of the gloss off of it. But it was a good win. Although let’s not get carried away. Our next big test is Sporting and then the visit of Liverpool in Nov. But we’ll know more about what we’ll be fighting for at the end of Dec, after trips to Old Trafford and Anfield and a visit from the Spuds. If we can get through that with damage limitation and continue to beat all those outside of the top six, I think we’ll be ok. Long may Unai keep our boy’s focused. Laca and Auba look like they are really enjoying their football. Still waiting to see Guendouzi and Torriera in midfield together in the league, as I’m still not 100% on Xhaka.

  2. Make that Adidas.

    In another great retro move AFC seem to be settled on fielding two genuine strikers again these days. Happy days indeed!

  3. Thanks for your post yw.
    Great team performance yesterday and an absolute fantastic team goal by Ramsey.
    It’s good we’ve gotten points away from home unlike previous season.
    My observation is that Unai makes effective changes when he does, that brings tactical changes as well and we have missed such for a long time. Glad it has paid off in these matches.
    Lacazette was MOTM without doubt. His game improved this season and like him coming into play in the midfield,linking passes with the midfielders before launching attack. Holds up play even with his back on goal due to great physicality.

  4. It was a performance that we needed to cap off a very impressive 9 match winning streak. Finally seeing the new man together, the defense looked comfortable both defending and playing out from the back. Its a shame that their goal came from a Nacho mistake but that aside, Fulham didn’t really look likely and even when they did, Leno was quick off his line to play that sweeper keeper. You definitely see Bellerin developing and even for that brilliant team goal, Ramsey is getting all the plaudits for his finish, but it ALL started through Bellerin recovering defensively and winning the ball back.

    Its strange Mhkitaryan was superb in that 10 role that he played behind Lacazette especially with Iwobi bombing forward. The difference in the match though was simple: defensively we were superb and our strikers showed why they are top strikers.

    That Torriera/Xhaka pivot is an exciting one because it plays to their strengths: Torriera buzzing about linking play, intercepting passes, winning tackles and playing in space while Xhaka is allowed to read and react and sit deep ro dictate.

  5. Think about this, people are saying Aubameyang hasn’t fully settled since his arrival but I think he has something like 17 goals on 23 appearances since his arrival.

  6. 5-1 away from home. No complaints. Happiest I’ve been with the Arsenal since FA Cup final 2017.

  7. C, I watched the match and it was evident we were playing 442 with Laca staying more central in his movement but coming deeper with Welbeck staying forward and drifting more laterally, sometimes shifting around with Iwobi. But it was definitely a 442. And we kept the same formation into the second half with a wonderful brief period with both Aubameyang and Lacazette playing as a front two.

    Then in the press conference Unai Emery himself noted that we played a clear 442 for the first time. Definitive. And it was fantastic.

  8. C,

    Mhkitaryan was excellent throughout though this is being lost a little in the praise being given to others in the side.

    There has been a lot of talk about the congested competition in the side for the 10 role with him normally being mentioned behind Ozil and Ramsey which for me is wrong. He will naturally drift into wider positions at time and this with Ozil playing a complimentary role will cause teams all sorts of problems.

    For me Ramsey is still the square peg in the round hole.

    Emery has a few selection headaches in attack.

  9. Noteworthy: we scored 5 goals without relying on Ozil to create. I had to say it before Bill comes on and makes it the central point he takes from the match!

  10. I have not enjoyed a football match as much as this one in such a long time. They were alive throughout the match and not the half match performances we have seen in the earlier part of their season. My eyes are on Holding in the back line and he is showing sure signs of developing as a starting player. The stronger consistency in play may well be connected to the 442 as my compatriot from Ontario points out.

  11. LSG,

    I didn’t read the presser but I also think thats the beauty of what Emery is doing, the tactics to drift and adopt styles. I’m personally not a fan of the 442 unless its with a midfield diamond but I also know the class and quality of Lacazette and Aubameyang and that they are both more than capable of playing in any system.

  12. Steve,

    I’m with you, Mhkitaryan is a brilliant playerand yesterday he was excellent and that pass to Aubameyang in the team goal was nothing short of sublime.

    Agree, I think Ozil and Mhkitaryan drifting about would be fantastic because Mhkitaryan does like to float to the flanks. Ramsey is the square peg because truly he is at his best when he can make runs from deep, with that said, he was really good in the team goal.

  13. LSG,

    Somebody had to bring it up, I think beyond that, we have truly found balance with Torriera and even Iwobi which most certainly helps. We have discussed all season with Ozil that we are creating bucket loads and we just lack finishing. I mean even against Chelsea we created loads of chances just kept missing.

    Lets not start that narrative, shall we.

  14. C,

    We were told earlier in the season that he always played a 4231, presses high and plays out of the back and that concerns like mine about not being practical and flexible to adjust the side to make the most of the squad he has currently were wrong. He should keep playing his rigid system so that everyone learned his style even at the expense of results initially. Well, I think he started making adjustments and has been experimenting with combinations and been more flexible about playing out from the back and when to press and when to defend deeper. So I am glad it turns out he is a lot more pragmatic and flexible than so many were suggesting and claiming was the right approach to take. This good run of results is more important than some sort of insistence on a formation and playing style for the confidence and learning, progressing of the team. And again, it is no coincidence that our best performance came playing with two central strikers against a lower table team that likes to play and attack. It is exactly the horses for courses measure I have been hoping and expressing on here that Emery take. And we were rewarded with exciting football and goals. I feel more confident about this season and Emery’s leadership precisely because he isn’t a dogmatic adherent to some ideal and style that doesn’t necessarily suit the squad of players he has.

  15. C,

    Haha—I don’t mean to bring it up, more to take it off the table! I think balance is the key and we had that yesterday.

  16. After yesterday’s encouraging display, I’m persuaded that we have seen the last of the old-time Arsenal “perfect goals” i.e. by walking it into the net via pitty-patty close passing in the opponent’s area.
    We now have strikers who know all about shooting from a distance.
    As for Ramsey’s effort, if this doesn’t become Goal of the Season I can’t wait to see the winner. 😉

  17. LSG,

    I think a couple of things that were said earlier about Emery were overstated or taken out of context. You and I spoke and I always stated that tactically Emery is adaptive in a 433 or 4231 and I think we have seen that and also in his ability to get the best out of players and the team. The big thing for me has always been that Emery not change his values and roots simply to get points and he actually hasn’t, we still play the high pressing, high tempo playing out of the back style but, as he did at PSG, Sevilla and even im his early days at Valencia and Almeria…he coaches players on being smart and knowing when to high press and when to drop off as all good to great high pressing teams do. For a man who is so obessed with tactics and coming from the Spanish Leagues, he will and has always been adaptive. More than anything though, I think he has instilled a confidence in the club and you see if in the players and in our style no matter who we play or who Emery selects.

    I keep going back to it but people keep forgetting that against Chelsea Iwobi, Mhkitaryan and Aubameyang missed sitters (at least for players of their quality) and we could have sailed past Chelsea 5-2. The biggest difference is that over the course of these 9 matvhes players have started finishing whether its Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette or others.

  18. LSG,

    Yup, if we get the balance right (which we have in the 2nd half of matches and again yesterday), it would actually be perfect for Ozil and/or Mhkitaryan

  19. C,

    Agree about our finishing v Chelsea but I think they also had some very good chances Cech snuffed out. I think we did deserve at least a draw but possibly Mir and certainly were hard done by with the loss.

    Overall about Emery’s tactics, I am just glad that he has 1) started to figure out his squad and its strengths of the players 2) is coaching and improving young players to achieve their potential—even Torreira is very young at 22 but has taken his fitness up a level and showing how a DM doesn’t need to be a liability technically and 3) has changed some of the complacent in the squad through competition and expecting high standards of effort on and off the pitch, in and out of training sessions with video and tactical analysis. What he is showing by playing 442 to outstanding results and success at the right time is that he isn’t like what we saw in some of AW’s era—insistence on a way of playing that was not possible with the players available. That makes a world of difference, I think.

  20. C,

    I agree fully. They have great contributions to make potentially this whole season. I would like Ozil to have the support behind him when he plays to create centrally.

  21. Phillip Bonneau,

    Two Owls, good to see you on the comments. Hope all well out in BC! Did you get up at 4am for the early kickoff? I found 7am on the Sunday a challenge and missed the Leno save in the opening minutes while brewing my coffee!

  22. LSG,

    Agreed but I think the biggest thing is that we are creating loads and more than anything, the signings made over the past 3 windows are showing good. Finishing has been a problem but between Lacazette and Aubameyang we have proven goal scorers so the goals will come.

    He is not only figuring out his squad but getting players to perform including the aforementioned Ozil doing things and giving them more responsibility. The flexibility in his tactics and coaching I think is something that both young and experienced players need and Emery is providing that. You talk of Torriera, but the influence that he is having on Bellerin and Iwobi, taking that raw potential and coaching it up tactically as opposed to the basic power and pace of the PL. Quick side bar but anybody who follows Serie A knew just how brilliant Torriera was, in the top 5 if memory serves, if tackles, interceptions and possibly even passing. I think the other thing I love is the fact that players like Lacazette, Aubameyang, Ozil who have all flourished under tactical managers are starting to show top form again.

  23. It’s a great debate on the balance of our side. Just to add my twopence, I would say there are a number of variables that take us to a tipping point of becoming more or less balanced. I like the square peg analogy in describing Ramsey. It describes his lack of a clear role in which he can be effective in the systems and personnel we employ. Having said that, being a square peg is not exclusive to him. With Özil and Auba on the flanks in a 3, we lack the width and ball carrying that makes the system most effective. Özil attracted to central areas where he is most effective, leaves Bellerin isolated in both attack and defence.

    Özil in central areas, leaves us more fluid in possession, but without an effective wide outlet. That Ramsey has been employed in the closest to the number 10 role, further complicates.

    Özil clearly is not shoe hornable into this side and it remains possible that neither is Aubameyang.

    Then all of a sudden a 442, exploited by the willingness of Welbeck, surely providing a template for Aubameyang to replicate with his club brother. Özil and Ramsey, would appear even more square in that classic formation.

    Hopefully growing confidence, negates some of these imbalances.

  24. LSG,

    Exactly and I think with the emerging partnership of Xhaka and Torriera, Ozil will most certainly get that. I also wouldn’t mind if when we are up he is subbed out for Guendouzi

  25. Actually, I thought Fulham played quite well (more so in the first half) by pressing Arsenal and moving with pace. Their finishing was off but much of that is to the credit of the defence, who looked composed throughout. Most of the teams that Arsenal have faced so far have pressed and have tended to open themselves up to the counter as a result. It will be interesting to see how they approach a game in which the opposition sits back behind a wall as teams like Stoke did with such good result.
    Once again, Arsenal were pacier after the interval than before it and their second-half display was a joy to watch. The “team goal” finished off by Ramsey was amazing. It almost seemed as though the Fulham defenders were watching it as we were.

  26. Against Liverpool we would do well to leave Xhaka on the bench, from what we saw yesterday in the draw between the top teams.

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