Arsenal rip through Fulham and recharge in perfect day for title push

Arsenal celebrate after scoring against Fulham (Reuters)
Arsenal celebrate after scoring against Fulham (Reuters)

Early and easy for Arsenal, rather than demanding everything at the death. This 3-0 win away to Fulham might not have raised the emotions of recent games but, crucially, had the exact same effect of raising hopes of the title. It might have even been more important in how it allowed the leaders to conserve energy, and perhaps had a potentially influential moment in the title race in the return of Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian still enjoyed what was almost a training exercise, the only disappointment that he didn't score a late chance. As it was, Mikel Arteta’s side enjoyed an easy Sunday afternoon away to a Fulham team that look to be levelling out, the leaders this time well ahead by half-time rather than well behind. It’s maybe just as well it didn’t go to the emotional heights of Aston Villa or Bournemouth.

The real benefit to such a victory is how it allows a much welcome moment of serenity - especially when it comes to Martin Odegaard’s touches - amid a season that is only going to get more intense. Fulham meanwhile look like they’ve expended all of their energy. It brought huge gaps in their team, that made the entire match so much more forgiving for Arsenal.

This was also one reason why the second goal maybe won’t quite go down as one of the goals of the season in the way it otherwise could have. Every outfield Arsenal player touched the ball in a wondrously flowing move that ended with Gabriel Martinelli heading in the spritely Andreas Trossard’s cross - but that was partly because not a single Fulham player was getting near them. More gallingly, for the moment when Martinelli rose for the header, Antonee Robinson looked like he was almost ducking.

It was even worse for the third goal. Odegaard was given the space just yards from goal to kill the ball with a luscious touch, and then allowed to just turn in and curl the ball around Bernd Leno.

Marco Silva could only sit there, not exactly seeing the version of Fulham that had made this such a good season for the club.

The first big moment was almost a sign of what was to come, even in how it was lucky for the home side that it wasn’t much worse.

Martinelli had burst into the box to drill the ball across goal for Leno to parry, and Robinson could do little as the ball bounced off him and in. It was the start of a miserable afternoon for the defender and his team, even as he had a reprieve here. Martinelli had strayed millimetres ahead of the offside line, after a fine reverse ball from Granit Xhaka.

The latter was also why it was only going to be a matter of time until Leno was picking the ball out of the net again. Arsenal’s midfield, and especially Xhaka, had the run of the pitch. There was so much space.

Fulham, for their part, were really missing the impact of Paulinha. It only emphasised how important he has been to the drive of the team, and how much he fills gaps.

It still doesn’t excuse the manner of the first goal, though, as Arsenal so easily scored from a set-piece.

Gabriel towered above the static Fulham defence, to head in a Trossard corner. It was part of a record for the former Brighton player, even if it was one of those records that requires a bit of convolution. Trossard became the first player in the Premier League to supply three assists in the first half of an away game. Much more relevant, however, was how that signified what a serious extra option the Belgian represents. It’s even more valuable with Jesus back. From a situation where Arteta by necessity had to start this game with a false nine, he now has so many options.

Fulham were better in the second half as they stopped conceding and actually started creating proper chances. Silva had clearly let his feelings be known at half-time, and it probably prevented this being a full thrashing. Aaron Ramsdale was even forced into a few strong-handed saves.

The issue was that the game was long over as a contest.

Arsenal’s title challenge, however, had the benefit of a little recharge. They also have their star back.

This might end up as one of those games that has an understated importance, precisely because it didn't require any overexertion.