Arsene Wenger would have been a happy man after this encounters. The Gunners rediscovered their potency after a traumatic afternoon at Birmingham, putting together a near perfect display to ease past Fulham and keep up the pressure on Manchester United. At the other end of the table, there’s pressure of a completely different kind on Roy Hodgson. The experienced head is still searching for the sort of miracle he needs to keep the Whites afloat and, although they battled hard here, it seemed just a matter of time before Arsenal’s greater quality told.
Emmanuel Adebayor was the star turn. The Togolese talisman headed two first half goals to give the visitors complete control before half-time and a late well-worked third from Tomas Rosicky added a more convincing look to the scoreline. It was accurately reflected the gulf between the sides and it seems as if Hodgson will need more than a few signings in the closing days of the January transfer window to perk up his new charges.
For a while, it appeared as if Hodgson’s tactical tweaks might pose Arsenal a serious problem. He ditched his trademark 4-4-2 and played Alexei Smertin as a holding midfielder to pack the middle of the park, whilst Clint Dempsey operated as Fulham’s foremost forward but not a conventional striker. The hosts could draw heart from an encouraging start and might have gone ahead had Seol Ki-Hyeon not slipped when about to pull trigger after gliding away from Gael Clichy. Danny Murphy’s follow-up effort from outside the box went wide.
Arsenal didn’t look particularly assured in the blustery wind – and there was an argument that conditions were helping Hodgson’s men cause problems. But, just as Wenger began to stalk the technical area with a pained expression, Arsenal hit the front. It was a simple goal. Clichy drove down the left and was allowed to move deep into Fulham territory unchallenging before hitting a high cross between Dejan Stefanovic and Aaron Hughes. Adebayor climbed highest and headed his fourteenth goal of the season in bottom the corner.
Fulham tried to mount a riposte but found William Gallas, booed at every opportunity by a Craven Cottage crowd who hadn’t forgotten his previous indiscretions in a Chelsea shirt on this ground, in imperious form. The Frenchman marshalled Arsenal’s defence superbly and the Gunners were clinical at the other end. Mathieu Flamini robbed Steven Davis of possession just outside the Fulham box and fed Alex Hleb on the right. Adebayor guided home another header from a deep cross to make the task even tougher for the beleaguered hosts.
To their credit, Fulham kept plugging away. Davis fashioned a chance for Murphy just before the interval, but the ex-England man drove over the bar after breaking in the box late to reach the pull back from the left – and you felt opportunities like that had to go in to give the strugglers a shot at turning their deficit around. Arsenal might have been further in front as they dominated the second period – Rosicky rattled the near post after a good break down the right – whilst Fulham had a reply ruled out rightly for offside when Dempsey, one of three players who the flag could have been raised against, forced home at the far post.
Some of Arsenal’s football was majestic. A flowing move featuring Hleb, Rosicky and Cesc Fabregas saw the Spanish midfielder send a first-time finish fractionally wide but Rosicky did grab a third nine minutes from time when Rosicky rifled home from Eduardo’s cross. It was all too easy for Arsenal – which is a large part of the problem for Hodgson.
FULHAM (4-5-1): Niemi; Volz, Bocanegra, Hughes, Stefanovic; Smertin (Kuqi 78), Davis (Bullard 45), Murphy, Davies, Seol Ki-Hyeon (Healy 61); Dempsey. Subs (not used): Warner, Baird.
ARSENAL (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Clichy, Gallas, Senderos; Fabregas, Flamini, Hleb, Rosicky; Eduardo, Adebayor. Subs (not used): Lehmann, Diaby, J. Hoyte, Gilberto Silva, Bendtner.
GOALS: Adebayor (19, 38), Rosicky (81).
REFEREE: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).