We’ve seen how easily a fluent Arsenal side can win games, now we’ve seen they can still get the job done when things don’t just go effortlessly to plan. They aren’t going away…
Just how far Arsenal can go this season remains uncertain, but this 2-1 victory over Fulham shows us something they hadn’t in their previous wins.
Because for the first time this season, Arsenal found themselves battling a good deal of adversity. The striking thing about Arsenal’s start hadn’t just been that they’d won three out of three but they’d won three out of three while spinning on their c*cks. Each win had been so cruisey that it was first off enough to deflect the inevitable “only Palace, Leicester and Bournemouth” style of criticism but also left us unclear what this new-look Arsenal side might do once things didn’t all just go gloriously according to plan.
This win tells us plenty despite already attracting the inevitable and dreary attentions of the Celebration Police. Before the game even began, Arsenal were rocked by the injury absences of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Thomas Partey. Both have been excellent this season and their absence forced Mikel Arteta into his first changes to his starting line-up this season.
Then Arsenal had to endure a frustrating first half featuring plenty of the pretty yet sterile domination that came to define the later Wenger years. There were definite hints of Just Trying To Walk It In as promising attacks frequently floundered on an additional or misplaced pass or unnecessary dawdle against a Fulham side that defended deep but diligently.
And then early in the second half, disaster. Gabriel was played into trouble by an unwanted pass but he played a bad hand terribly with an awkward first touch and a worse second before trying and failing to foul Aleksandar Mitrovic who gleefully lashed the ball past Aaron Ramsdale to continue his new-found Premier League goalscoring ability.
So here we were. This was now a Proper Test. Arsenal’s fine attacking players were, with the notable exception of Martin Odegaard, not quite clicking and their defence had just dirtied its own sheets in dreadful style.
In its way, the best thing about Arsenal’s comeback was the sheer scruffiness of the goals. If the goal Arsenal had conceded was another prime exhibit for the burgeoning throwback Just Get It Launched movement, the ones that turned the game on its head remind us that all goals from the scruffiest toe-poke to the most spectacular thunderbastard are all worth precisely one.
Odegaard fully deserved his goal, but he will score a great many better ones than the deflected strike that brought things level.
Gabriel may not score a great many better ones than the one he bundled home from a corner with four minutes remaining here, but few will feel sweeter. From villain to hero via a prod past the former Arsenal keeper Leno who blotted a fine copybook with his ill-judged flap. A VAR review of a potential handball by William Saliba to assist his fellow centre-back was interminable, but by the current rules (and who really knows what the current rules are, eh?) we think it was the right decision despite appearing to hit the Frenchman’s arm. Whatever the rules may or may not say, it was certainly one of those that would have been farcical to disallow.
But as the check went longer the Arsenal fears started to mount before finally confirmation arrived and the turnaround was complete.
At the final whistle “Tequila” blasted out of the Emirates PA because of course it did. And Arsenal were back on top of the table because of course they were.
On a day where the two pre-season title favourites produced a ludicrous thrashing and stirring comeback of their own, it may be that what Arsenal did was still the most revealing and even significant achievement of the lot. You don’t win anything without sometimes winning ugly.