It started with Hector Bellerin winning back possession in his own penalty area.
19 seconds and 9 passes between 5 players later, Aaron Ramsey had flicked the ball between his legs and Arsenal had scored their wonderful third goal amongst a quintuple of accomplished finishes that put Fulham to the sword at Craven Cottage. Unai Emery, never one to hide his emotion, celebrated in a manner that indicated he recognised immediately how special a goal it was. Arsenal fans were in no doubt. They’d seen this type of goal before.
It was peak Wengerball in the burgeoning Emery era.
No matter who took over from the Frenchman in the summer, overhauling Arsenal’s attack would not have been the first matter on their to-do list. Whilst there was undoubted room for improvement, the 74 goals Arsenal scored in the league last season was the same number Tottenham notched up and 12 more than Chelsea, even though London rivals finished ahead of Arsenal in 3rd and 5th respectively. The far more troubling statistic was the 51 goals they conceded, only 5 less than what relegated Swansea City managed, and it’s safe to say that despite the 9-game winning streak Emery has orchestrated, the side has some way to go yet in terms of beefing up their backline.
Still, given that we are only in early October, the signs that Emery is starting to mark his own stamp on this team are encouraging. It was clear from the first game of the season against Manchester City that the Spaniard had his own ideas about playing out from the back, and whilst there have been growing pains and a nagging feeling that the team has not been playing as well as their winning run would suggest, the emphatic demolition of Fulham indicates that the style of play he has been pushing his team to implement is beginning to come together. Ramsey’s sublime goal will undoubtedly steal the headlines and rightfully so, but all five finishes Arsenal fired into Marcus Bettinelli’s net came with a degree of quality, and even the much maligned Shkodran Mustafi had a great afternoon in limiting Aleksandar Mitrović influence on the game.
Despite the shaky final few years of Arsène Wenger’s reign, you would not begrudge Emery from feeling some intimidation in replacing the legendary Frenchman, such is the influence Wenger had both on Arsenal as a club and the English game as a whole. Perhaps the most defining aspect of the 22-year legacy he left behind was the attacking football that the club pioneered and prided themselves on during Wenger’s time and charge, and it is clear even in these early days Emery has recognised the need to continue the team’s focusing on attacking play all whilst adding his own ideas on how the side seeks to play. Arsenal are still a team that likes to keep the ball, dominate possession and make use of their overlapping full-backs to hurt opposition defences, yet the influence Emery is having on the side is becoming increasingly apparent with each passing match.
Emery’s desire to have the goalkeeper and defence distribute the ball short from the back has been well-documented, and whilst it still comes with problems – Fulham’s goal came from Nacho Monreal misplacing a pass deep in his corner of the pitch – the benefits that come with implementing this risky strategy were clearer than they ever have been before at Craven Cottage. Fulham, like almost every side Arsenal have faced this season, pushed up high and sought to win back the ball high up the pitch, but frequently found their press was bypassed by a series of longer balls up the pitch to Arsenal’s forward players. The passing ability of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira in the centre of midfield makes this a potentially fruitful endeavour for this Arsenal side, and in the end it was Torreira’s long punt upfield and the knockdown from Danny Welbeck that allowed Alexandre Lacazette to smash home his second and given Arsenal the lead once more.
It is important to remember that this is only Fulham, who have the leakiest defence in the Premier League, but after some solid yet somewhat uninspiring victories this felt like something different. It was a win to be savoured. For the first time since Emery became manager Arsenal’s attack finally clicked consistently across an entire game and the result of that was devastating. Bigger challenges are to come and there are defensive issues that still need to be ironed out, for sure, but this was the biggest indication yet that the club’s new manager is doing a great job of building on the foundations laid down by the man who came before him. Long may it continue.