Arsenal came away from a rain-soaked Craven Cottage with their first league win of the season after Fulham fell to a 3-1 defeat.
Goals in the first half from Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski had Arsene Wenger’s cruising to victory as the rain came lashing down in West London.
Podolski added his second in the 68th minute but Arsenal couldn’t keep a clean sheet as Darren Bent netted his first Fulham goal before the end.
The away side bounced back from last week’s horror show at home to Aston Villa with a confidence-boosting win in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday and it showed as Arsenal knocked the ball about with style in the opening minutes. They could have been in front when Tomas Rosicky played in Theo Walcott with a clever chipped pass, but Fulham’s stand-in goalkeeper David Stockdale made a good save to deny the England international from close range.
Stockdale was starting thanks to Martin Stekelenburg’s injury in the 1-0 win over Sunderland last week but could do nothing about a slick Arsenal opener in the 14th minute. Aaron Ramey’s pot-shot from 20 yards was deflected by the legs of Giroud, but the French striker pounced first to expertly flick past the English goalkeeper and nestle the ball into the bottom corner. It was a great finish from Giroud who has now scored in each of Arsenal’s three opening games this season.
Fulham looked to hit back and Adel Taarabt proved to be a handful for Arsenal’s makeshift defence that included Bacary Sagna playing in a centre-back role. The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder spun nicely on the edge of the box and fizzed a low shot at goal but the Gunners’ Polish goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny made a good low save to keep out the effort as well as Damien Duff’s rebound strike.
The conditions at Craven Cottage worsened as the first half wore on with the rain thumping down and causing the pitch to come up in puddles. This was proven when Santi Cazorla went for goal from 25 yards but his shot got stuck in the water and dribbled into the grateful hands of Stockdale. Up the other end, Scott Parker’s chance for a debut goal were dashed when he scooped a left-footed shot well wide from 25 yards.
Arsene Wenger’s side were beaten by Villa’ counter-attacking abilities last week but were using the tactic themselves to put Fulham to the sword. Walcott did well to race away from the home side’s midfield and play in Kieren Gibbs on the left-hand side, but the defender’s shot was poor and he sliced it well wide of Stockdale’s goal. It was a poor finish but a great piece of finishing gave Arsenal a second goal four minutes before the break.
Santi Cazorla, who dominated the midfield battle, spread the ball wide for Walcott who fizzed a low shot at goal from ten yards. Stockdale made a good save to push the ball away but the rebound fell to Podolski and the German attacker expertly placed the ball into the top corner with a controlled finish from the edge of the penalty area. It was just what Arsenal deserved for a fluid first half display.
Arsenal’s momentum intensified in the second half and they added a third goal through their German international. Cazorla was involved again as he slid the ball back for Podolski who made no mistake with a powerful drive that flew into the far corner from 18 yards. It was a good strike that left Stockdale with no choice and Arsenal were on their way to their first points of the new campaign.
Wenger’s only disappointment about his side’s performance will be their inability to keep their clean sheet. Martin Jol threw on new signing Darren Bent in a hope of rejuvenating the game, and the loanee from Villa grabbed a goal on his debut to make it 3-1. Dimitar Berbatov spun on the edge of the box and drilled a low shot at goal that Szczesny did well to save, but Bent was first to the rebound and rattled in perhaps the easiest goal of his career with a simple finish from six yards out.
The goal was a dampener on an otherwise good day for the Gunners who are back on track after a nightmare start to the season. They will look to continue that form in their second leg tie in Europe in mid-week.
Match Report by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)