Arsenal begin 2019 by thumping Fulham with Iwobi 8/10, Aubameyang 7/10
Arsenal took a while to warm up but eventually cruised to a 4-1 home win over Fulham to begin 2019 on a high note. It wasn't a comprehensive performance by any means, as the visitors wasted a string of chances to score in the first half, but the potency of the Gunners' attack continues to be their saving grace.
Granit Xhaka opened the scoring against the run of play after 25 minutes, drifting in-between defenders to convert Alex Iwobi's dangerous cross. Alexandre Lacazette made it 2-0 early in the second half with a cool finish after fine approach play down the left and though Aboubakar Kamara gave the hosts a fright with a well-taken effort on the break after 69 minutes, late goals from Aaron Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang helped restore some faith in the Gunners' push for a top four finish under Unai Emery.
After the nightmarish trip to Liverpool, anything less than three points on New Year's Day would have caused panic to set in among the Emirates faithful. Despite several close calls and a precarious 2-1 lead with 20 minutes left, they pulled away and completed an emphatic home win that helps make the trip to Anfield look like an isolated incident.
Unai Emery has reason to be frustrated at the easy manner in which the visitors cut through the Arsenal rearguard to create a string of clear-cut chances: Fulham should have scored three before half-time. The concern is that better teams will punish such lacklustre, confused defending. Furthermore, this is a team that struggles to play on the back foot. It took Fulham's goal to spark an extra degree of intensity in the hosts; one wonders if they've got the mettle to see out a narrow win.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Emery gave Ramsey and Lucas Torreira a deserved rest while mercifully putting Stephan Lichtsteiner on ice following a torrid time at Anfield and using a back three with three actual centre-backs. Yet a first-half in which Arsenal were mostly on the back foot meant he had to make a swap during the break, moving to a back four with Torreira added to bring a bit more solidity to the midfield. His predictable swap of a striker for Ramsey with 15 minutes to play paid dividends as the Welsh midfielder scored the vital third goal. Nice to see young talent Bukayo Saka given a late run-out with the game decided, too.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Bernd Leno, 6 -- Fairly assured when called upon between the posts. Was fortunate not to concede to Sessegnon at the back post given his indecision about coming to claim a cross from the left, only for the youngster to volley wide from close range when it was easier to score. Made a few strong stops to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic in both halves.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 6 -- More is expected from the long-standing centre-back but he struggled to handle Sessegnon down his side.
DF Laurent Koscielny, 6 -- Frequently let Mitrovic get into dangerous positions but did enough to keep Fulham out.
DF Shkodran Mustafi, 5 -- Simply not up to speed. Another frustrating effort from the veteran defender who seems increasingly ill-suited to a three-man defence.
MF Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 5 -- Unable to follow up his performance vs. Liverpool, in which he scored his first Arsenal goal, with something equally as notable on New Year's Day. Frequently undone by the canny play of Sessegnon down that flank at every opportunity.
MF Matteo Guendouzi, 5 -- Has generally adapted well to life at Arsenal but found himself frequently overwhelmed and over-run in the middle. Not the sharpest passes when on the ball and often caught out by Fulham on the counter. Not assertive enough to manage the midfield yet at this level but at 19 years old, he's got plenty of time to grow.
MF Granit Xhaka, 6 -- Did well to get in an advanced position for the opening goal, drifting into the six-yard box to meet Iwobi's cross and firing beyond Sergio Rico. Generally involved in everything positive that Arsenal did but Fulham cut through the midfield too easily when in possession. A bright display was hampered by some awful passing that elicited groans from the home fans
MF Sead Kolasinac, 6 -- Full of confidence when joining the attack but seemed clueless and confused when defending was required. Lost Sessegnon at the back post but was bailed out by a poor finish. Not assertive enough in the tackle but made up for it with constant involvement in the final third, linking well with Iwobi and grabbing an assist for Lacazette's goal.
FW Alex Iwobi, 8 -- Arsenal's best player in 2019 so far. Iwobi was a constant source of pace and purpose down the flank, stretching Fulham to their limits with his workrate. Assisted on the Gunners' first goal with a well-weighted cross from the left and always willing to run at his marker when in possession. His positive play was a highlight despite that he was frequently unable to make the critical final pass.
FW Alexandre Lacazette, 6 -- A quiet game overall but took his goal well 10 minutes into the second half, calmly receiving Kolasinac's square ball and firing home past a crowd of Fulham defenders.
FW Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 7 -- A better game for the speedy forward, especially after a well-publicised poor performance at Anfield in which he only touched the ball 13 times. Made himself a nuisance throughout and finally got his goal having played a part in Arsenal's second and hit the post before Ramsey scored the third. Eventually scored with a shot that deflected off Tim Ream and looped over Rico from a narrow angle.
MF Lucas Torreira, 6 -- Replaced Mustafi at half-time as Emery turned to a back four given Fulham's menace in the first 45 minutes. Took him a while to find the pace of the game but did his job well enough.
MF Aaron Ramsey, N/R -- Replaced Lacazette with 15 minutes remaining as Emery tried to shore things up and protect the hosts' one-goal lead. In the end, he did more than that, casually curling home Arsenal's third after fine work down the left by Guendouzi and Kolasinac.
FW Bukayo Saka, N/R -- Replaced Iwobi with eight minutes left. Not enough time to show his talent but the introduction bodes well for him in 2019.