Something special is stirring in north London. As Arsenal players and fans celebrated a come-from-behind victory over Fulham, an energy permeated around the stadium, touching all those who stood in its wake.
“Just like the old days,” suggested one season-ticket holder to his friend. Now, such talk is a little premature. While pretty enough, this performance was for long periods ineffective. But what Arsenal do have is a new-found resilience.
Take Gabriel Magalhães. His dallying on the edge of the area allowed Aleksandar Mitrovic to steal possession and put Fulham ahead. But after Martin Ødegaard’s equaliser, Gabriel bundled home a winner to ensure Arsenal will end the weekend at the league’s summit.
“The reaction of the stadium straight away gave support and belief,” said Mikel Arteta about the mistake. “Then the player has to show courage to continue playing. Mistakes are part of football. It’s about how you respond.
“The way Gabby has changed his mentality, the way he approaches every single day is different to a year or two ago. How consistent he is with his habits, and how he wants to become one of the best.”
In the equivalent week last year – international breaks aside – Arteta’s team also narrowly defeated promoted opposition. That result against Norwich arguably saved his job. Twelve months later, times are very different and he marked his 100th league game in charge with a 53rd win. “We have matured and playing in front of these supporters helps,” Arteta said. “Then it is about the belief; now we have that belief.”
For the first time this season, Arteta had been forced to tinker with his starters, Thomas Partey and Oleksandr Zinchenko dropping out. In came Mohamed Elneny and Kieran Tierney, with all eyes on whether Arsenal would retain their early season zip and fluency.
The initial results were mixed. For all Arsenal’s first-half possession, of which there was plenty, they missed their clinical touch. Fulham absorbed pressure and Bernd Leno, who endured a Jekyll-and-Hyde four seasons at the Emirates, was required only to smother from Bukayo Saka, who had raced clear having inadvertently been played in by Tim Ream. Leno may have felt slight palpitations though, when Gabriel Martinelli’s corner struck the bar.
At times Arsenal perhaps overplayed. Take a clipped round-the-bend through ball from Ødegaard that few would have seen, let alone administered, which sent Gabriel Jesus racing down the right, for example.
Jesus initially appeared to have held on for too long, but did find Saka. Rather than strike first time though, as supporters implored, Saka tried to be too neat and Tosin Adarabioyo’s toe prevented him reaching the “two” following his “one” with Ødegaard.
Granit Xhaha had earlier missed the target when teed up by Jesus, and by the interval there was a tinge of frustration brewing.
Arsenal continued their territorial domination after the break, Ødegaard stinging Leno’s palms from outside the box. Then they fell behind.
In the not too distant past, that could have been terminal. But not for this iteration of Arsenal. Instead, from outside the box Ødegaard wrong-footed Leno via a deflection off Adarabioyo. “Arsenal, Arsenal,” they roared.
Eddie Nketiah injected energy from the bench, as a winner was sought. Martinelli’s fierce curled strike was, but for Adarabioyo’s head, goalbound. Then finally, persistence paid off. From a corner, Leno missed his punch and Gabriel had close-range redemption.
Defeat was a little harsh on Fulham who, having been unceremoniously dumped out of the Carabao Cup in midweek by the Football League’s bottom side, had a more than passable stab at its top side. A Championship cheat code, many felt Mitrovic was not cut out for top-flight life. His 100th goal for the club made it four from four, already bettering his tally in Fulham’s last Premier League season. His strike was all the sweeter for having earlier been felled when Aaron Ramsdale’s clearance struck his head.
Mitrovic stooped to nod goalward with the scores level but Ramsdale denied him. Then at the end, Ramsdale prevented the substitute Nathaniel Chalobah nicking a point.
“Tough, tough result for us,” said Marco Silva, who also hinted at a refereeing imbalance, albeit nothing major. “Credit to my players, who deserved more from the game than we took.”