Arsenal continued their impressive run towards a league title win with a convincing win over Fulham, extending their lead at the top of the table and this weekend they can stretch it further.
Last Sunday saw another three points ticked off as the Arsenal march, improbably and yet inexorably, towards their first league title in sixteen years.*
After the high drama of the previous weekend’s victory against Bournemouth, I’m sure that I wasn’t alone in hoping for a slightly easier afternoon for my blood pressure. And, I could get used to this, down by the river, boy did Arsenal deliver.
The main fear before the game, I think, was the dreaded return of Narrative FC and the potential of former players Willian and Bernd Leno doing the things that footballing exes can sometimes do and playing out of their skin.
In the case of Willian, that would have felt like a sick joke indeed, luckily a back injury spared us from having to worry about him. We were further assisted by a suspension to Fulham’s Palhinha and, according to my mate Luke, a version of Mitrovic who was nowhere near fit.
Former Gunner Leno’s errors gift Arsenal two goals
That goalkeeper, though…
As it happened, dear Bernd – a rare example of an Arsenal player to depart the club in recent times with no hard feelings from anyone – helpfully showed exactly why he was jettisoned in favour of Aaron Ramsdale. If he was blameless when Gabriel Magalhaes rose to nod home the first of Leandro Trossard’s excellent deliveries for the afternoon, I’m not sure we can say the same about his inability to claim the second one, Martinelli rising above a seemingly catatonic Robinson to head Trossard’s left footed cross over the goalline.
Leandro should have had another assist when Xhaka dummied the ball into him before collecting Trossard’s first time pass into Granit’s run. Unfortunately, on this occasion, Granit’s elephant feet let him down and Leno was able to prevent what would have been a genuine goal of the month contender. Trossard would not be denied his hat-trick of assists though, another cross from the left finding skipper Martin Odegaard, who paused, shifted the ball onto his left foot, stopped again to ask someone the time and then rifled the ball into the bottom corner to give us a 3-0 half time lead that looked pretty unassailable.
And so it was, despite an improved second half Fulham showing, Arsenal were – as they have been for the majority of this season – in complete control. For the second game in a row, after his amazing yet fruitless surge through Sporting Lisbon on Thursday evening, Gabriel Martinelli was denied a goal of the season contender after a surgical passing move involving Partey, Saka, Odegaard & Xhaka.
Gabriel Jesus returns for Arsenal as options grow for Arteta
However, most of the focus was away from the pitch. In particular, the focus was on our bench and the prospect of Gabriel Jesus returning to action. And to the delight of the travelling fans, return he did.
Knowing that Jesus had been in training for a while before making his return to competitive action, I wasn’t too concerned by a possible lack of sharpness in his all round game – okay, let me phrase that better – I was pretty confident that he’d come back looking like the player we all remember from the opening three months of the season. And I think you can say that he definitely did that, even down to missing a very presentable chance when Fabio Vieira played him in. Perhaps a sharper Jesus would have hit the ball a second earlier and found a way past Leno – but it was a brilliant break away from the pair in the first place.
It’s kind of mad to look at the options Mikel Arteta now has at his disposal, it was only a month ago I was looking, very enviously, at Manchester City’s options as Guardiola turned the tide at the Emirates. Eddie Nketiah has likely gone from matchwinner against Manchester United to 3rd choice centre forward, given the ease with which Trossard deputised for Jesus, Emile Smith Rowe didn’t even get on the pitch on Sunday.
On Smith Rowe, I know from conversations I have with other Arsenal fans, there is a concern that this Arsenal team may have evolved past him whilst he’s been away. I don’t see it like that at all. We all know how good he is, he is a Gooner to his core and the immediate focus for him has to be get to full fitness and stay there. More to the point, I think Mikel Arteta loves him. Hopefully, the months of rehab following surgery will prove a definitive end to the issues which have plagued our number 10.
Speaking of recent envy, we were due for a Sunday reunion with the beloved captain of the Invincibles. Unfortunately for him, Steve Parish has chosen to celebrate this particular St Patrick’s Day by giving Vieira his P45. A big call ahead of a fixture Palace have done pretty well out of in recent times.
Of course, I hope it will be different on this occasion, especially as – well, I was going to say because I’ll be at the game… The wider context, though, is that Manchester City are otherwise engaged this weekend and so Arsenal have a massive opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the table to 8 points. Yes, okay, having played a game extra, but it would be a big blow to strike in the last game we play before moving into April.
For the record, I STILL don’t think we’re going to win the league, but the thought that, just maybe, we might is beginning to linger – oh so tantalising – in my mind. To quote my mate, James Craddock after the Manchester United win in January “I don’t think I can hack this mate… My head feels like a bowling ball”.
It’s mid March Paul, get a grip.
But what is football if not a reason to dream? And why shouldn’t we dream? Nobody expected us to be here now, so why not just enjoy it? If only football fans brain, my brain, worked so logically. Life would be a lot easier then.
Oh well. Till next time, hopefully with another three points in the bag and another step taken on the road to… who knows where and who knows what?
Arsenal players win big at London Football Awards
One more thing, yes, just call me Columbo… All the props in the world to the cornerstones of Arsenal’s improbable title challenge. Earlier this week, Mikel Arteta, Martin Ødegaard, Aaron Ramsdale and – the greatest person to come outta Ealing since
me my sister Ria – Bukayo Saka were winners at the London Football Awards. On a night which raised funds for Arsenal legend Bob Wilson’s Willow Foundation, ladies and gentlemen, your Manager, Players, Goalkeeper and Young Player of the year.
Anyone seen a combined Arsenal/Spurs line up recently?
*Fever Pitch joke – surely I didn’t need to explain, but this being the internet, I thought it safer..