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3 things we learned from Arsenal’s opening game vs Fulham

Arteta’s revolutionised Arsenal side kicked off their Premier League campaign with a confident 0-3 victory against Fulham at Craven Cottage, with Brazilian debutants Willian and Gabriel putting in impressive performances to get the Gunners off to a fine start. Arsenal’s fast start was signified within the 10 minute mark as Lacazette prodded home from close range after Willian’s parried shot, to put us in the driving seat.

Then early in the second half, Gabriel showed his aerial prowess when he put us 0-2 up with an imposing header following Willian’s corner. The game was later put to bed when Aubameyang rounded off a fluid team move with a finish that is quickly becoming his trademark, topping off an excellent performance away from home.

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The Arsenal players swarm Gabriel after his debut goal.

Here are three things we learned from Fulham vs Arsenal. 

Encouraging signs from our debutants 

Arteta showed his faith in our new Brazilians by throwing them in the starting line-up against Fulham, with Gabriel playing at the heart of a back three and Willian lining up on the right hand side of our attack. They both put in stellar performances, with it being very evident the type of qualities that they bring to the squad, as Gabriel proved to be dominant in the air along with showing competence in possession while Willian added some much needed creativity and experience, playing a major role in all three goals.

After an early mix-up between Gabriel and Maitland-Niles, which could have been costly if it weren’t for a crucial interception from Bernd Leno, the 22-year recovered quickly and grew into the game looking more comfortable with every touch of the ball. His accomplished passing range was clear to see throughout, completing 107 out of an attempted 113 passes, with a success rate of 95%. Statistics such as this one bode well for the future, as it perfectly suits Arteta’s philosophy of building out from the defence, with the big Brazilian seemingly unfazed by playing an such an integral role in starting our attacks. It was very noticeable that when in possession, he didn’t always look for the easiest pass, breaking the lines on multiple occasions with firm, accurate passes into the feet of one of our midfielders. As a result, it sped our attacks up and took opposition players out of the game, not only gifting our creative talent more time on the ball but it also meant that they received the ball further up the pitch.

Another element of his game that seems to be adept, is his dominating nature in the air, as he won nearly every aerial duel whether it was defensively or in an attacking sense – and thus was able to open his account for the Gunners from a set piece. At 6’3″, there won’t be many strikers in the Premier League that will beat Gabriel in this department, with Mitrovic struggling against him even though he is known for his robust aerial threat. Gabriel’s combination of height, athleticism, strength and competence on the ball along with looking like a defender that actually enjoys defending makes him an exciting prospect for the future, bringing a whole host of attributes which our defence has lacked for many years.

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Gabriel Magalhaes (left) and Willian (right) both made their Arsenal debuts vs Fulham.

The signing of Willian looks to be a master stroke by Arteta and the Arsenal board as he is a player with an abundance of Premier League experience, who can give the team consistent performances straight from the off, while providing us with a solution to our creativity problems. Not only does he give us the flexibility to change formation mid-game, due to his versatility to be able to perform on either wing or in an attacking midfield role, but he brings competition for places in the front three – which in turn should raise the levels of our other attacking players.

The 32-year was instrumental in every goal, with Lacazette tapping in the rebound from Willian’s original effort to put us in the lead then early in the second half, his corner was headed home by fellow Brazilian Gabriel. His impressive debut didn’t end there, as he showed his creative output once again with an across field switch to Aubameyang, who made no mistake with the finish to put the game out of sight. Last season, we lacked a player who we could rely on to create chances on a regular basis, however with this signing I am confident that Willian can play a major role in relieving part of this burden for Arteta. Furthermore, he also brings expertise to set-piece situations, as over the years he has been able to hone an incredibly effective style which has seen him contribute many goals and assists. This was highlighted in this game, when he came close with a cleverly disguised effort, only for the post to deny him a debut goal. Over the course of the season, having a set-piece specialist will certainly help the team to pick up more points, with Gabriel’s goal being a prime example as to how effective it is to have a player with Willian’s ability over dead ball scenarios.

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Arteta has his players well drilled

In relatively little time, Arteta has managed to instill a disciplined nature into the team especially when out of possession, which see’s no player become a passenger as everyone is willing to stay in their shape and be patent to win the ball back. This was apparent throughout this game, as Fulham were playing the majority of their football in front of Arsenal’s organised 3-4-3 formation, finding it difficult to break the lines and create chances due to every player knowing their individual roles.

For example, when defending: Gabriel, Holding and Tierney would all take up positions closer to each other to ensure there aren’t any spaces for the opposition attackers to run into, the wing-backs tuck in as well while being aware of the threat out wide, being ready to press the opposition if the ball reaches this area of the pitch. Xhaka and Elneny sit slightly deeper and screen the centre-backs, taking it in turns to put pressure on the ball in order to win it back, while the front three become narrower to compact the pitch and restrict the space in which Fulham had to work in.

As a result, the home side became very passive in possession, allowing us to win the ball back in dangerous areas in order to break quickly after they had committed men forward.  Credit has to be given to Arteta and his coaching staff for the work they have put in, making a once fragile backline into one which now keeps clean sheets on a regular basis.

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An example of an Arsenal’s shape in possession against Fulham.

As you can see from the image above, in possession Arteta likes us to slightly tweak our formation, as the centre-backs spread out to open up the pitch with Xhaka usually dropping into the LCB role which allows him to dictate the tempo of our attacks as well as giving him the opportunity to utilise his wide passing range. Tierney then has more of a license to push further forward, in his more natural left-back role, which is important for the team due to the quality of his delivery. This in turn allows Maitland-Niles to come inside and play more of a central-midfielder role, helping Elneny to break up any counter attacks the opposition might have if we lose possession.

As a result, Bellerin can hug the touchline and provide the width on the right hand side, meaning the two wingers can interchange and make runs in behind when Lacazette looks for the ball to feet. Against opposition such as Fulham, who play with a deep block, patterns of play like the one in the picture is vital, as it drew them onto us creating the space in behind for Aubameyang to run into. On this occasion, our main man was unable to provide the finish, however as we saw later on in the match if given another opportunity he wasn’t going to miss twice.

Arsenal should have high hopes for the season

As convincing as this win was for the Gunners, it is far too soon to be getting carried away with saying top 4 is nailed on, as there will be much harder tests to come. However, the squad is playing with an air of confidence combined with a sense of belief that we can beat any team put in front of us, which definitely bodes well for the rest of the campaign. From start to finish we controlled the game, playing with what can only be described as a swagger, something we have been incompetent at away from home regardless of the opponent for a while.

All these noticeable changes are part of the reason why there is such a growing sense of optimism heading into the rest of the season and with the right financial backing in the transfer window this feeling will only get stronger.

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The players have bought into Arteta’s tactics.

Many Arsenal fans feel that the club is moving in the right direction, as Arteta’s fresh and innovative ideas are not only coming to fruition on the pitch, but just as importantly off it. Many key players have come out and re-iterated their desire to stay at Arsenal, which could be seen as an insight into how the players are feeling, adding to the idea that their is a newly found unison between everyone involved in the club. As a result, I believe this has created an even stronger connection with the fans as for the first time in what seems like forever.

There aren’t many that don’t believe Arteta can take us to the very top.

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2 Responses to 3 things we learned from Arsenal’s opening game vs Fulham

  1. satish pema September 14, 2020 at 9:02 am #

    A great write up.Keep writing and I will keep reading

    • James Humphreys September 14, 2020 at 12:09 pm #

      Thanks a lot, glad you enjoyed the article!

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