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 admitted ‘he wanted to kill’ Aboubakar Kamara after the French forward refused to give Aleksandar Mitrovic the ball and missed a crucial penalty in Fulham’s 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town this afternoon.
Kamara stood firm despite the attempts by several of his team-mates to take the ball off him and hand the late penalty to the Serbian striker, who was Fulham’s nominated penalty taker. Huddersfield goalkeeper Jonas Lossl saved Kamara’s tame penalty and the situation was only rescued by Mitrovic, who scored a stoppage winner.
A furious Ranieri told BBC Sport after the final whistle:
He did not respect me, the club, team-mates and crowd. I spoke with him, it is not right. I said to Aboubakar Kamara to leave the ball to Aleksandar Mitrovic, he is the man who shoots the penalties. It is unbelievable what he did.
I wanted to kill him. That is normal when one man takes a ball, only because he scored the last penalty (against Manchester United). It should be Mitrovic, that is it.
Mitrovic had a more diplomatic assessment of the situation afterwards:
We had a small argument and I think it is my job for penalties. He did not think like this but I respect that. I have done the same in the past. I don’t have a problem with this, he missed and that is part of football. He changed the game when he came on in the second half.
Last time I said I am so unhappy I want to cry, today I want to say I am so happy I want to cry. It is a big three points, we kept another clean sheet and that is a big improvement for us. Today was a six-point game against rivals at the bottom and it was a very important game. It gives us confidence before facing Arsenal. We need to carry on winning games and taking points.
Ranieri admitted the manner of the victory, arriving in the first minute of stoppage time, was almost fantastical.
It was unbelievable. If we had to dream this match, it is important to score in the last minute and that is what we did. It was very important for the victory and the effort.
Aleksandar Mitrovic’s predatory finish in injury-time secured a massive three points for Fulham over relegation rivals Huddersfield Town and spared the blushes of Aboubakar Kamara, who had refused to hand over a spot-kick to the Serbian number nine only minutes earlier.
Claudio Ranieri admitted that ‘he wanted to kill’ Kamara after the French forward failed to beat Jonas Lossl with a tame penalty that saw him defy team orders – and the protestations of half of his team-mates – to take. The French forward felt he had won the spot-kick, charitably awarded after a handball by Chris Lowe, and had earned the right to convert it after scoring from twelve yards at Old Trafford this month. Lossl’s save felt like the game’s decisive moment, but that actually arrived a minute into stoppage time.
Tom Cairney, recalled after being named amongst the substitutes for the Boxing Day draw with Wolves, had the presence of mind to find Ryan Sessegnon with a forward pass after Erik Durm’s cross reached him on the edge of his own box. The teenage winger, introduced as a late substitute, crossed the halfway line and dribbled deep into Huddersfield territory, committing two defenders before threading a perfect ball through for Mitrovic, who slipped a first-time shot between Lossl’s legs and into the corner.
Mitrovic revealed afterwards that, in sharp contrast to his devastation after missing a host of chances on Boxing Day, he wanted to cry tears of joy following his late winner. The delirious scenes in front of the Hammersmith End spoke volumes about the importance of this victory that lifts Fulham up to eighteenth in the table – and will land a significant physiological blow on one of their fiercest relegation rivals. Huddersfield boss David Wagner appeared shell-shocked afterwards, admitting that the late defeat was tough to take.
The late drama was in stark contrast to the tedium of a first half that had little to recommend it. Huddersfield, who have scored just twelve league games all season, opted to pack the midfield and try and stifle Fulham’s passing game – whilst the home side were happy to watch the Terriers pass the ball in front of them for most of the first period. Philip Billing stung Sergio Rico’s palms with a rasping drive from distance eight minutes in, but clear cut chances were few and far between. Steve Mounie, once rumoured to be a Fulham target, failed to really extend the Spanish goalkeeper further with two headed opportunities and Fulham’s opportunities were limited to sporadic counter attacks.
The first fell the way of Cyrus Christie, who found himself in uncharted territory at the far post – latching onto a deep cross from Luciano Vietto, but the Irish wing-back could only direct his header away from goal. Mitrovic should have done better than send two headers over the bar from a couple of inswinging corners from Jean-Michael Seri, who was fortunate to escape harsher punishment than a yellow card after scything down Florent Hadergjonaj. Mitrovic nearly turned provider when sending Cairney clear on goal, but a combination of Mattias Jorgensen and Lossl snuffed out the danger.
Ranieri rung the changes at half-time, introducing Kamara and Maxime Le Marchand, and the home side immediately stepped up the intensity of their play. They almost found a breakthrough when Christie floated in a free-kick only for Calum Chambers to head towards a team-mate instead of directly at goal from a promising position. Just before the hour, Mitrovic and Vietto created a glorious chance for Joe Bryan who went for placement rather than power and allowed Lossl to make a simple save at his near post.
The Danish goalkeeper then made a magnificent reaction save four minutes later when he clawed Mitrovic’s header away from the near post after an inviting Bryan cross had opened up the Huddersfield defence. Mitrovic and Kamara were striking up a useful understanding in the forward areas and the unpredictable French forward tested Lossl again with an instinctive volley after Mitrovic had flicked a forward ball into his path.
Then came the drama of the penalty, awarded after Kamara’s flick had struck the arm of the unfortunate Lowe, who had little time to adjust his body position. After all the acrimony over who would take the spot-kick, Kamara’s apologetic penalty seemed inevitable. Huddersfield almost rubbed salt into the wound when Billing’s low drive from the edge of the box took a deflection and whistled wide. Even after Mitrovic’s stoppage-time strike, a backpeddling Rico still had to touch a looping header from Christopher Schlinder over the bar – and the frenzied celebrations at the final whistle showed just how important Fulham’s third win of the season could be.
FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Mawson (Le Marchand 45), Ream; Christie, Bryan, Chambers, Seri (Kamara 45); Cairney, Vietto (R. Sessegnon 77), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Cisse, Schurrle, Ayite.
BOOKED: Seri, Odoi, Christie.
GOAL: Mitrovic (90+1).
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (3-5-1-1): Lössl; Jorgensen, Schindler, Kongolo; Durm, Hadergjonaj, Hogg, Billing, Löwe; Pritchard (Kachunga 65); Mounie (Depoitre 65). Subs (not used): Hamer, Stankovic, Bacuna, Diakhaby, Mbenza.
REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).
Aleksandar Mitrovic admitted that he felt like crying after failing to score with any of his eight efforts this afternoon – and it was easy to see why. The Serbian striker came close to grabbing a late winner when Connor Coady cleared his scuffed shot off the line, but Fulham’s frustration at letting a valuable lead slip was evident. They squandered several glorious first-half chances and couldn’t cling onto the advantage handed by them by substitute Ryan Sessegnon, with Romain Saiss stroked home his first Premier League goal with six minutes left.
At least the point lifted Claudio Ranieri’s men off the foot of the table, but with a rare win in sight, the late setback felt like a defeat. Both sides took a while to settle in the day’s early kick off and referee Andre Marriner waved away a convincing shout for handball from either side. Wolves had the earliest chances but were far from their fluent best, with Adama Traore showing signs of that blistering pace when he darted into the penalty area from the right but skied his shot from the edge of the box. Raul Jimenez then fashioned a chance for himself out of nothing with some incredible agility, but his bicycle kick didn’t come close to troubling Sergio Rico either.
Fulham eventually got going and most of their chances fell the way of Mitrovic, who wore the captain’s armband after Tom Cairney was dropped to the bench. He saw an early shot bravely blocked by Ryan Bennett and then headed wide at the far post before placing a near-post header from a cleverly worked corner just wide of the near post. He found half a yard to latch onto a promising Andre Schurrle cross, but an untimely heavy touch took him away from goal and he blazed high into the Putney End.
The home side’s football was enterprising in the final third and Mitrovic’s strength and movement was causing the Wolves back line all sorts of problems. He powered a header straight at Rui Patricio before the Portuguese goalkeeper fielded tame efforts from the former Newcastle striker and Schurrle. Fulham looked to have opened up Wolves decisively after a fabulous one-two between Cyrus Christie and Aboubakar Kamara released the Irish international in the penalty area but the low cross agonisingly eluded Mitrovic as he slid it at the back post.
Wolves looked potent on the break with the lively Jiminez almost taking advantage of a defensive mix-up and surprising Rico with a venomous shot at his near post, but Fulham then fashioned the clearest chance of the first half. Mitrovic turned Willy Boly and Coady inside out but shot straight at the onrushing Patricio, when he appeared to have most of the goal to aim at. You felt Fulham were going to pay for their wastefulness in front goal, especially as Wolves had looked a shadow of the side who had so worried Liverpool before Christmas.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side certainly stepped it up a gear in the second half. Joao Mountinho, who had played a subdued holding role in the first half, became much more prominent after the break and Wolves began to exert a hold on proceedings. Jiminez guided a header from Johnny Otto’s cross straight at Rico before the Spanish goalkeeper repelled his clever curler from the edge of the box and Bennett drilled a long-distance effort over the crossbar, but Fulham’s new-look back three held firm. They were supported by a well-drilled midfield, marshalled superbly once again by Calum Chambers, but struggled to create chances as they had done in the first period.
Sessegnon, introduced midway through the second half for Schurrle who had faded badly, made an immediate impact. He almost laid on a goal for Kamara, but Boly diverted a dangerous cross away from the French forward just in the nick of time. There was no escape for Wolves a couple of minutes later. Jean Michael Seri’s floated free-kick located Alfie Mawson in space at the back post and when Patricio could only punch the loose ball clear, Sessegnon hammered home his first Premier League at Craven Cottage through a crowd of bodies.
Fulham’s relief was tangible but they elected to try and shut up shop inside of seeking a second. With Cairney already curiously occupying a position on the right wing, Ranieri sent on Kevin McDonald in place of Seri to try and tighten things up, but a lack of a focal point in midfield ended up inviting more Wolves pressure. The visitors sent over a succession of crosses and eventually found an equaliser with six minutes left. Saiss had a simple finish after Joe Bryan made a hash of clearing Ivan Cavaleiro’s cross when he appeared destined for Helder Costa.
There were still chances for both sides to win in. Tim Ream made a superb block in stoppage time and Mitrovic, racing onto an outstanding long ball from Rico, looked set to clinch a valuable victory when he muscled his way into the box. His finish trickled excruciatingly towards the corner, but Coady made a superb recovery and hooked the ball away to safety. It proved to be just one of those days.
FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Mawson, Ream; Christie, Bryan, Chambers, Seri (McDonald 82); Kamara (Cairney 73), Schurrle (R. Sessegnon 67), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Le Marchand, Ayite, Vietto.
BOOKED: Chambers, Christie.
GOAL: R. Sessegnon (74).
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (3-4-3): Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Jonny Otto (Ruben Vinagre 82), João Moutinho, Saïss; Traoré (Cavaleiro 45), Gibbs-White (Helder Costa 63), Raul Jiminez. Subs (not used): Ruddy, Kilman, Neves, Bonatini.
GOAL: Saiss (85).
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (Birmingham).
By the end, it was a massacre. Arsenal accelerated to their ninth straight league win and there seemed to be an ocean between the Gunners at Fulham by the time that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rolled in a fifth at the Putney End seconds into stoppage time. The sight of Ryan Sessegnon, disconsolately on his knees after the final whistle in the centre circle, showed just how much this defeat hurt.
It was yet another reminder of how defensive vulnerabilities can be brutally exposed in the top flight. Fulham had began feistily, with plenty of spirit and tempo, penning Unai Emery’s side deep in their own half during an opening twenty minutes that saw Slavisa Jokanovic’s side dominate possession and create a couple of clear chances. They even had the momentum going in at half-time following Andre Schurrle’s sumptuous finish to a flowing move and were arguably in the game until Jokanovic opted to replace Tim Ream with Aboubakar Kamara. Had the French forward directed a header on goal with his first touch instead of it drifting harmlessly wide, who knows what the outcome might have been?
Instead, Arsenal’s formidable football, explosive pace in the forward areas and the sort of supreme confidence that comes with winning nine league games in a row took hold. Alexandre Lacazette had underlined his devastating ability in front of goal with two wondrous finishes before a sweeping move that began in the Arsenal right back position after Schurrle’s untimely slip ended a promising Fulham attack, led to an impudent flick from Aaron Ramsey completing a contender for goal of the season. The game might have been effectively out of Fulham’s reach from that moment on, but Jokanovic would not have been enamoured with the way his charges wilted after that. The Whites appeared to have run horribly out of gas in the final twenty minutes, with Aubameyang slotting home clinically from close range before adding that late fifth. Fulham have a reputation for being welcoming hosts, but this was unforgivable generosity.
Jokanovic’s solution to a horribly shaky defence was to deploy three centre backs and give Sessegnon and Christie the license to roam forward from wing-back. The teenage Sessegnon did it effectively, arguably bettering Hector Bellerin in the first 45 minutes, but Christie’s limitations at this level were horribly exposed during a chastening afternoon. With Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s return from a serious shoulder injury probably more than a month away, right back appears to become another problem position. Most of the problems came down the Arsenal left in the first half and, with Denis Odoi frequently dragged out of position to cover, it was inevitable that the Gunners would eventually fashion a goalscoring chance. Maxime Le Marchand had already produced two last-ditch interventions before Lacazette took the first opening that came his way clinically, spinning inside the box and firing a low shot beyond Marcus Bettinelli, to make light of Fuham’s encouraging start, which saw Bernt Leno produce an excellent save from Luciano Vietto’s deflected shot and Aleksandar Mitrovic have a strike blocked behind.
As it turned out, Fulham’s equaliser just before the break only delayed a deflating second half collapse, but at the time it felt significant. Vietto gleefully seized on a poor Arsenal pass, galloped into space just outside the box and measured a lovely ball through for Schurrle. There was a still a lot for the German to do, but he brilliantly lifted a clever finish over Leto and the home side were level. It was the least they deserved for the spirit and resolve demonstrated in shaking off going behind once again, but Jokanovic will be alarmed at how devastatingly his side fell from that high-octane start for the second week running. The Whites had no answer to Everton stepping up a gear at Goodison Park last Saturday – and you never really felt they were likely to mount a comeback once Lacazette lashed home from distance after Danny Welbeck had flicked on a hopeful long ball from the impressive Lucas Torreira.
Ramsey’s first touch was an artful back flick from close range that left Marcus Bettinelli with no chance and capped a mesmerising length of the field move that hinted at the sort of football Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles put together in their sleep. You can feel the belief drain away from Fulham’s shell-shocked players – and Jokanovic now has a real job on his hands. The Serbian head coach, no closer to knowing his best eleven and with injuries sidelining key performers, has to lift his team ahead of their return to domestic action following the international break, which includes three possibly pivotal fixtures against Cardiff City, Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town. Aside from fashioning a functioning back line, the Fulham boss needs to add more bite to the midfield, especially ahead of that trip to south Wales. The confidence of last May already looks a thing of the past.
FULHAM (3-4-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Ream (Kamara 54), Le Marchand; Christie, R, Sessegnon, Zambo Anguissa (McDonald 62), Seri; Vietto (Johansen 83), Schürrle, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Mawson, S. Sessegnon.
BOOKED: Vietto, Schürrle.
GOAL: Schürrle (44).
ARSENAL (4-4-2): Leno; Bellerín, Monreal, Mustafi, Holding; Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Xhaka, Iwobi (Ramsey 67); Welbeck (Aubameyang 62), Lacazette (Guendouzi 80). Subs (not used): Martínez, Sokratis, Lichtsteiner, Kolasinac.
GOALS: Lacazette (29, 49); Ramsey (67); Aubameyang (79, 90+1).
REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).