A few surprises in the Arsenal line-up – Elneny in the middle, Maitland Niles on the left. Gabriel in the centre of defence, with Holding, no Saliba in the squad. Leno got the number one goalkeeping spot – Martinez looks to be on his way.
The cameras caught a spat between Ceballos and Nketiah in the warm-up – two substitutes – wanting a place in the first eleven.
Fulham – a lot of people’s second favourite club, helped by the great surroundings of the Bishop’s Park and London Palace and the added entertainment of balls going into the Thames.
All eyes were on Gabriel, who hadn’t had a competitive game in six months, and put in the deep end due to five injuries to central defenders. His cause wasn’t helped by a Maitland Niles sloppy back pass in the first two minutes, Gabriel left it and Leno had to execute a delicate save at Kamara’s feet. A dangerous cross soon after was cleared.
Gabriel looked nervous with an unnecessary push and a misplaced pass. But that was to be expected. But halfway through the half, he put in a signature muscular tackle on Kamara – healing balm to Arsenal fans, whose nervous systems had been put under existential strain with defensive deficiencies for the last fourteen or so years.
The focus on Gabriel, took the focus off the other Brazilian debutant Willian (the tenth Brazilian to play for Arsenal), who seemed to have played with this side for ages. He found spaces, popped up at unexpected times, tracked back and linked the play. Not to mention two assists in this 0-3 victory.
The Fulham back Odoi went on a run and shot. Leno saved.
Aubameyang took a long ball on the left and sent it low to Xhaka who knocked it in first time. A scramble ensued and the ball fell to Willian whose shot bounced off the keeper to Lacazette who poked it in for first goal of Premiership season.
Arsenal wing backs were underlapping confusing Fulham’s markers, further discombobulated with Tierney overlapping down the left.
A Lacazette flick to Elneny was blocked and Xhaka knocked the rebound over.
Willian passed to Lacazette whose momentum was interrupted by Hector, who carried on with fouls all game. He hit the post from the free kick.
Odoi sent in a dangerous cross which flashed across the area.
Tierney sent in a great ball finding Aubameyang whose shot was saved by keeper low down near the post.
Aubameyang was yellow carded tracking back on Odoi.
Willian carried on the good work in the second, as he passed to Maitland Niles, who sent in a great cross.
Kabana dived in clash with Tierney but the free kick cleared by Gabriel.
Aubameyang then showed his change of pace on the left but as he was about to let fly Ream blocked.
Holding – who remarkably did six keeps-ups passed to Lacazette, who won a corner.
Gabriel leapt above the stationary Ream to score off his shoulder, through the keeper’s legs. Great way to start his Arsenal career.
Bellerin was booked for a Catalan rugby style tackle on Cavaleiro. Kamara drove just wide from the free kick.
Then a well-worked team goal. Elneny and Lacazette were involved keeping the momentum. Willian took over with a magnificent cross ball to Aubameyang who chested it down move it on and fired it into the top corner. Like the Community Shield goal, Maitland Niles made a run inside and Tierney outside.
Fulham started to stand off giving Arsenal more space in midfield. Pepe came on for Willian; Ceballos for Xhaka and Nketiah for Lacazette.
Bellerin sent a defence-splitting ball to Aubameyang, whose chip was headed off the line.
Post-match, Lacazette said: “We wanted to win and have a good sheet. Offensively some good stuff. We can [hear him from the touchline]. We work a lot in the week -we have respect for what he wants.”
Asked about his immediate future at Arsenal, he said: “I am happy here – only the press say I want to leave. We want to play for the title. We want to get aggressive with and without the ball. We aim to have a place in the top four.”
Mikel Arteta said; “We wanted to see the team determined against a difficult team and ground.
“Willian and Gabriel were training well. Gabriel didn’t train for six months.
“Lacazette is in my plans. Whoever is in better shape is going to play. Elneny has been excellent in training – we know what he can give us. Today he was phenomenal.
On another player rumoured to be departing: “Holding change your mind – you are not going anywhere.”
On Aubameyang’s contract: “Hopefully it will be done in the next few days.”
Fulham’s Scott Parker said: “For 45 mins in the first, I half liked a lot about us. We needed to be more ruthless. They got a lucky ricochet. In the second half we were more vulnerable. You are seeing a team, in their moments – they score.”
Fulham: Rodák, Odoi, Hector (Booked at 26), Ream, Bryan, Reed, Cairney (Booked at 61),Kebano (Substituted for Zambo Anguissaat 63), Onomah (Substituted for De Cordova-Reid 75),Cavaleiro, Kamara (Substituted for Mitrovic 63)
Arsenal: Leno, Holding, dos Santos Magalhães, Tierney, Bellerín (Booked 55), Elneny, Xhaka (Substituted for Ceballos 78), Maitland-Niles, Willian (Substituted for Pépé 75),Lacazette (Substituted for Nketiah at 87) Aubameyang (Booked at 39)