Don’t be too dismayed by the scoreline. This might have looked like another routine defeat at Arsenal for a team and a manager who have never won there, but there were a lot more signs of promise for a side still sitting nineteenth in the table. Fulham fashioned more chances in the opening 35 minutes than they have done on their last four or five visits to the Emirates – and, briefly after Aboubakar Kamara reduced the arrears to 2-1, threatened a comeback in the second half.
Ultimately, this was a lesson in ruthlessness in front of goal. Ryan Sessegnon will rue missing two glorious chances to give Fulham the lead, whereas Granit Xhaka needed no second invitation to put the Gunners in front after 25 minutes. A tired defence looked leggy in the second half and made a couple of elementary mistakes as Fulham pushed forward in search of an equaliser. 4-1 felt incredibly harsh, but the top flight can be a brutal competition at times as Fulham are finding out.
Claudio Ranieri’s men were far more forward-thinking than anybody could have predicted and had a lot more joy in getting at an Arsenal defence that still looks shaky enough to undermine their Champions’ League ambitions. Tom Cairney, restored to the playmaking role where he looks most effective, was excellent with the ball in the first half. He played a delightful ball sending Sessegnon clear but the teenager dragged his shot disappointingly wide of the far post. He missed his kick entirely at the far post as an Andre Schurrle cross flashed across the face of goal – and Fulham were immediately reminded of the magnitude of those two chances.
The home crowd were beginning to get restless, but they were relieved by an opening goal made by a combination of Arsenal’s two best players, the energetic Sead Kolasinac and Alex Iwobi. Ranieri will have been perturbed by Cairney’s failure to track Xhaka’s run – the hulking midfielder burst into oceans of space that wasn’t occupied by Tim Ream or Maxime Le Marchand either and had far too much time to bring the ball down and stroke a finish past the helpless Sergio Rico.
The goal sparked the Gunners into life. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a couple of chances, one saved by Rico and one steered wide from a good position, whilst the lively Mattéo Guendouzi was also denied by Fulham’s Spanish goalkeeper. Fulham still created openings of their own with Aleksandar Mitrovic, who got a fair bit of joy against Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis, failing to get a decisive connection on Joe Bryan’s deep cross, but went in a goal down.
It got worse ten minutes after the break. Iwobi found more space down the left and a set of speedy passes between Aubameyang and Kolasinac opened Fulham up. The left wing-back burst between blue shirts and committed Rico before squaring the ball for Alexandre Lacazette, who hammered home the finish. At that point, you feared the floodgates might open but Ranieri introduced Kamara and Jean-Michael Seri and the visitors got a foothold in a game that had appeared beyond them.
One of Seri’s first contributions was an excellent cross onto the head of Mitrovic, who probably should have done better than direct his effort straight at Bernd Leno. Fulham weren’t perturbed. Seri added some bite to their midfield, stripping Lucas Torreira of the ball with a strong tackle that incensed the Arsenal players, and the Ivorian combined with Cairney to create the space for Sessegnon to surge down the left. His low cross cut out Leno and Kamara, the villain on Saturday, tapped home the simplest of finishes from close range.
Emery’s decision to replace Lacazette with Aaron Ramsey was greeted with disdain by the home crowd, but it settled what had become a topsy-turvy game. The Welshman and Torreira took control of a more open contest and, as he did at Craven Cottage earlier in the season, Ramsey scored within minutes of coming on. This wasn’t as glorious a goal – but his finish was unerring after Aubameyang had struck the base of the near post after another flowing passing move between Kolasinac and Guendouzi.
A fourth, which arrived seven minutes from the end, seemed harsh on Fulham and certainly on Rico, who had made a string of fine saves in the second half. The goalkeeper had little chance when Aubameyang’s shot hit Ream and looped over him. Ranieri might not have been pleased with the way Arsenal were allowed to toy with the Fulham defence on the edge of the box, but his players had certainly given everything and, with a bit of luck, could have got a result had they taken those early chances.
ARSENAL (3-4-1-2): Leno; Mustafi (Torreira 45), Sokratis, Koscielny; Maitland-Niles Kolasinac, Xhaka, Guendouzi; Iwobi (Saka 83); Lacazette (Ramsey 75), Aubameyang. Subs (not used): Cech, Lichsteiner, Elneny, Nketiah.
GOALS: Xhaka (25), Lacazette (55), Ramsey (75), Aubameyang (83).
FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream; Christie (Fosu-Mensah 57), Bryan, Cisse (Seri 61), Cairney; R. Sessegnon, Schurrle (Kamara 61), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Johansen, Vietto, Ayite.
GOAL: Kamara (69).
REFEREE: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).
Claudio Ranieri says he is counting on the core of the Fulham side that won promotion under Slavisa Jokanovic to steer the Whites away from the relegation zone.
The Italian manager highlighted the crucial contributions of Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon, who have both been rotated during the festive period, as well as the goalscoring prowess of Aleksandar Mitrovic after yesterday’s late win over Huddersfield Town at Craven Cottage. Ranieri revealed that Sessegnon is still building up his match sharpness after returning from injury, whilst there has been speculation that Cairney could be made available during the January transfer window – but the Fulham boss appears to believe the club’s most used combinations will be crucial in the weeks ahead.
Speaking to the press following Fulham’s dramatic win last night, Ranieri said:
It’s very, very important the relationship with old players, young players but old in Fulham. It is very, very important. I don’t have time to make some experience with a friendly match I have to try to do my best and I know we can press all of the match and then I need to choose when is the right moment to press all together.
Ranieri was also full of praise for Mitrovic, both in terms of his coolness in front of goal and his measured response to Aboubakar Kamara’s insistence that he would take the crucial penalty against the Terriers despite the Serbian being Fulham’s nominated spot-kick taker.
He is a young goalscorer but he is an intelligent player. He knows that there are moments you score every match and some moments you wait. I never see him nervous, he’s always calm, working well during the training session and for me this is the best thing. He was great when he understood Kamara didn’t want to give it to him the ball and goes there [to] kiss him and says ‘good luck’.
Fulham captain Tom Cairney has urged his team-mates to use what he described as a ‘massive’ win over relegation rivals Huddersfield Town as a springboard for the remainder of their season.
The Whites claimed a precious three points over the league’s bottom side in dramatic fashion with an injury-time winner from Aleksandar Mitrovic at Craven Cottage yesterday. Cairney, recalled to the starting line-up for the crunch clash, told the club’s official website that Claudio Ranieri’s men were desperate to triumph in the battle between the Premier League’s bottom two sides.
It’s a massive relief. I think we had to win that game and the boys, especially second half, were brilliant. We were banging on the door for a while and it took until the end of the game to win it, but it’s moments like that which boost your morale and turn seasons around, so hopefully that’ll be the case for us.
The first half was pretty dead really. We kept our shape for large periods but they probably shaded it. But second half we took the game by the scruff of the neck a little bit, played a little bit more football, got a few more men forward. The second half was a good one to play in and was a bit more like us last season so long may that continue.
The Scottish international was full of praise for Mitrovic, who played through a fever and keep his cool when put through by substitute Ryan Sessegnon in the first minute of added time.
He 100 per cent deserved his goal at the end. He was ill on Friday as well, he wasn’t even at training, so he did well to stay on for 90 minutes and give everything like he did, so I was delighted for him to hit the back of the net.
The late winner was all the more welcome after the drama of Aboubakar Kamara refusing to hand over an earlier penalty to Aleksandar Mitrovic – despite the attempts of his team-mates to intervene – and seeing his tame effort saved by Jonas Lossl in the Huddersfield goal.
It’s a hard situation. We tried to give the ball to Mitro because he’s the penalty taker, the number nine, our top goal scorer. But how far do you go? Abou believed he could score which is fair enough but obviously everyone wanted Mitro to take it because he’s the designated taker.
You all saw it, there’s no hiding place, but it’s just one of those things. Thank God we ended up winning the game so it doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as it could have. We’ll just move on now.
Fulham are interested in signing Liverpool full back Nathaniel Clyne in January – but face stiff competition from a number of their Premier League rivals.
The Sunday Mirror reports that the England international is willing to leave Anfield on loan to seek first-team football once Joe Gomez returns to full fitness. Fulham are known to be interested in strengthening their options at right back and are ready to send Timothy Fosu-Mensah, currently on loan, back to Manchester United in order to facilitate another domestic loan signing.
It is thought that Cardiff City are the frontrunners in the race for Clyne’s signature, however, due to the former Southampton defender’s relationship with Neil Warnock. The Bluebirds boss gave Clyne his professional debut at Crystal Palace at the age of 17 and the right back went on to make more than 100 first-team appearances for the Eagles. Warnock believes that his role in mentoring Clyne could give Cardiff the edge in a three-way battle for his services.
Leicester City are also said to be keen on signing Clyne, who has won fourteen England caps. The Foxes are in the market for defensive cover in January and are willing to offer the 27 year-old first team football.
Claudio Ranieri fears Alfie Mawson could be sidelined for some time with a knee problem after the defender limped off during Fulham’s win over Huddersfield Town this afternoon.
The former Swansea centre back had to be substituted at half time after suffering an injury when turning during the first half and the Fulham manager is concerned about the seriousness of the problem. The 24 year-old has a history of knee problems and had surgery at the end of last season after injuring his knee during the warm-up ahead of Swansea’s FA Cup tie against Sheffield United. Recovery from that operation meant that Mawson was not fully fit after signing for the Whites in the summer and had to wait until late August to make his Fulham debut.
Ranieri revealed that the injury to his commanding centre back ruined his plans to introduce Ryan Sessegnon during the half-time break. He told his post-match press conference:
I wanted to make two changes but at the end Mawson was injured. I had to wait to put Sessegnon and I put him on in the last ten minutes because then I can take a risk. Also Mitrovic played yesterday with a fever and I didn’t know [at half-time] if he can continue. Fortunately he is strong man and he continued all the match,
Maxime Le Marchand, who replaced Mawson for the second half, will be first in line to step into the Fulham defence should the former England under-21 international be ruled out of the trip to Arsenal on New Year’s Day.