LONDON — Arsenal re-established a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a comfortable 3-0 win against Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday.
Manchester City had cut the deficit earlier in the weekend through a 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace but the Gunners showed no signs of feeling the pressure as they raced into a 3-0 half-time lead through goals from Gabriel, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard.
Fulham improved a little after the interval with Bobby De Cordova-Reid forcing Aaron Ramsdale into a smart 69th-minute save before Aleksandar Mitrovic hit the crossbar from the resulting corner.
Gabriel Jesus returned from knee surgery to make his first appearance for Arsenal since Nov. 6, and missed a late chance after being played in by fellow substitute Fabio Vieira. But by then the visitors had already secured Mikel Arteta’s 100th win (including penalty shootout victories) in his 168th game as Arsenal manager which takes them one step closer to a first league title in 19 years.
1. Arsenal give perfect response to as City keep up title chase
The Gunners arrived in west London facing a quick turnaround from Thursday’s 2-2 draw at Sporting CP. In the end, the preparation was probably the toughest thing about this fixture. The Gunners changed their travel plans, having originally intended to train in Lisbon on Friday before a bug struck multiple players and Arsenal chose instead to fly back from Portugal on Thursday evening.
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There was no sign of any ill effects, however, as Arsenal effectively killed this as a contest in the opening 45 minutes. Fulham have beaten Chelsea, drawn with Liverpool and only lost to Manchester United in stoppage-time this season. So, on paper, this represented another tricky test of Arsenal’s title credentials, one made harder by City’s two-point proximity in the table. Yet they handled it with ease, managing the second half to the extent they were able to give minutes to several squad players and afford Bukayo Saka an 18-minute rest.
It is of course too early to know if this will make a difference but Arsenal once again chipped away at City’s goal difference, now sitting just five behind the champions on +37.
2. Trossard and Martinelli ease pressure on Jesus return
Prematch excitement among Arsenal fans focused on the return of Gabriel Jesus, named on the bench for the first time since the World Cup after undergoing knee surgery. The Brazilian has only recently returned to training and Arteta has stressed the importance of avoiding rushing Jesus back from injury. Leandro Trossard and Martinelli filling the void like this will make it much easier to resist that temptation.
Trossard, who recovered from a groin injury much sooner than expected, started through the middle here and Fulham simply could not cope when he drifted out to the left to overload defender Kenny Tete on that flank. Trossard was not Arsenal’s first choice when they looked to strengthen their attacking options in January but after missing out to Chelsea in the race to sign Mykhailo Mudryk, the Gunners moved quickly to acquire an alternative.
These are still formative days in Trossard’s Arsenal career but the £27 million signing from Brighton & Hove Albion increasingly looks like an inspired one. He now has one goal and five assists from nine Premier League appearances, three of which came against Fulham. Martinelli, meanwhile, looks to have put a midseason dip behind him with another all-action display.
Jesus got 13 minutes at the end when this game was over as a contest; a gentle reintroduction with further challenges to come.
3. Too early for Fulham to be on the beach
Despite it being mid-March this match had a distinct end-of-season, eyeing up a summer holiday feel to it from the home side. Fulham were curiously flat from kick-off and although Arsenal were devastating on transition and clinical in attack, they were allowed to find their feet early on because of the hosts’ passivity.
There were mitigating factors here, not least the absence of key midfielder Joao Palhinha through suspension. His midfield bite was missing in Monday’s 3-2 defeat at Brentford and arguably even more so here given how fluid Arsenal were in possession. Former Arsenal winger Willian has enjoyed a fine season back in London but was ruled out late on with a back problem with De Cordova-Reid a disappointing deputy.
Fulham have exceeded all expectations in this campaign, defying predictions they would be embroiled in a relegation fight to instead compete for European qualification. But this was a second successive defeat and a particularly poor showing which Marco Silva must quickly consign to history if Fulham aren’t too plateau in their remaining matches. At least the next game should sharpen minds: an FA Cup quarterfinal trip to Manchester United (stream LIVE Sunday, March 19 on ESPN+ in the U.S..)
Best and worst performers
Leandro Trossard, Arsenal: First player in Premier League history to register three assists in the first half of an away game.
Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal: His mixture of pace and purpose caused regular alarm in Fulham’s backline.
Martin Odegaard, Arsenal: Another influential midfield display capped with a goal which takes him into double figures in league goals for the first time in his career.
Kenny Tete, Fulham: Overwhelmed by Arsenal’s overload as the Gunners ran riot in the first half and non-existent threat going forward.
Bobby De Cordova-Reid, Fulham: Struggled to make anything like the same impact as Willian and was on the periphery throughout, aside from a second-half strike which Ramsdale saved well.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham: Didn’t have much service to feed off, in fairness, but lost more than half his duels.
Highlights and notable moments
Things are going pretty well for Arsenal fans at the moment, but the sight of Gabriel Jesus arriving at Craven Cottage as part of a squad for the first time since the World Cup will have given them a prematch boost.
Back in the squad ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Oaxm5TSTae
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) March 12, 2023
Those good vibes continued on the pitch thanks to Trossard’s hat trick of first-half assists, with the third to set up Odegaard the pick of the goals.
A hat trick worth of assists for Leandro Trossard as Martin Odegaard scores his 50th club goal!
📺: @Peacock#MyPLMorning | #FULARS pic.twitter.com/6gbP4HIfjb
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 12, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Postmatch quotes will appear here…
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Gabriel scored his third goal of the season, with his first coming in the reverse fixture against Fulham back in August. Odegaard also scored in that 2-1 win.
Gabriel Martinelli’s 23 Premier League goals for Arsenal equal Nicolas Anelka’s total for league goals scored for the club (1997-99) while 21 or under. Only teammate Bukayo Saka (27) has scored more in that age category for the Gunners.
Leandro Trossard is the first player in Premier League history to register a hat trick of assists in the first half of an away game.
Trossard’s three-assist first half is not the first in the Premier League this season; that was in August when Roberto Firmino did so in Liverpool’s 9-0 win over Bournemouth.
Arsenal have not failed to win a Premier League game in which they have led by multiple goals since a 2-2 with Crystal Palace October in 2019.
Fulham: The Cottagers are one game from Wembley — if they can get a famous win at Manchester United in next Sunday’s FA Cup quarterfinal (stream LIVE at 12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+ in the U.S.) then they’ll reach their first semifinal in the competition since 2002.
Arsenal: The Gunners host Sporting CP in the second leg of their Europa League round-of-16 tie on Thursday, having drawn the first leg 2-2 in Portugal, before they welcome Crystal Palace — managed by former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira — to the Emirates in the Premier League on Sunday.
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