Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Arsenal's progress under Unai Emery gathers pace against Fulham
Arsenal were 5-1 winners over Fulham on Sunday
Last Updated: 09/10/18 9:01am
Arsenal have not looked wholly convincing during their recent winning streak but everything clicked in the second half against Fulham on Sunday. Nick Wright was at Craven Cottage to see the 5-1 win and weigh up their progress under Unai Emery.
As Arsenal racked up the goals in the second half at Craven Cottage on Sunday, the travelling fans crammed into the Putney End began to enjoy themselves. "We've got our Arsenal back," was the chant after Aaron Ramsey's brilliant third. "You've only come to see the Arsenal," they sang after Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang made it four.
Arsenal's exhilarating performance was a throwback to their glory years under Arsene Wenger, but more than that it fuelled the growing sense of optimism about what lies ahead under Unai Emery. After a rocky start, Arsenal have won nine consecutive games for the first time since 2015. They are only two points off the top of the Premier League.
It will take much more than this for Arsenal to be seen as genuine title contenders, of course, but the situation is far brighter than anyone anticipated after those early losses to Manchester City and Chelsea. And while Arsenal may have ridden their luck at times recently, there could be no disputing their superiority against Fulham.
Few players have been more important to the improvement than Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman's confidence is sky-high and his finishing instincts were razor sharp at Craven Cottage. For his first goal, he showed composure and balance to turn and fire home. For his second, there was precision accuracy as he found the bottom corner from range.
Those were Lacazette's only shots of the afternoon but goals are just one part of what he brings to this Arsenal side. He is just as likely to be seen wrestling back possession in his own half as he is getting on the end of chances, and he benefitted from the presence of a strike partner against Fulham, too, with Emery switching to 4-4-2 in the absence of Mesut Ozil.
Lacazette combined well with Danny Welbeck for the opening hour but it is his partnership with Aubameyang that really excites supporters. They only shared 18 minutes on the pitch at Craven Cottage, but Arsenal scored twice in that period and the hope now will be that Emery continues to use them together centrally - rather than pushing Aubameyang to the flank.
Aubameyang proved just as deadly as Lacazette, scoring twice to move level with him on four for the season so far, but the most striking thing about Arsenal's final three goals was the slick build-up play which preceded them. The third was a dazzling one-touch move which went through Lacazette, Hector Bellerin and Henrikh Mkhitaryan before Aaron Ramsey flicked home Aubameyang's cross.
Ramsey and Aubameyang then swapped roles for Arsenal's fifth, Ramsey flicking the ball through to the onrushing Aubameyang following an 18-pass move which started at Bernd Leno's feet and ended in the Fulham net. It was Arsenal's 29th goal in just 11 games this season.
Arsenal's attacking play was scintillating at times but it would not have been possible without Lucas Torreira's contribution at the base of midfield. The Uruguayan has been eased into action by Emery this season but he has started three consecutive Premier League games now and on this evidence he is unlikely to be overlooked for many more.
Torreira was a tigerish presence in front of Arsenal's defence, making more interceptions (six) and more recoveries (eight) than any of his team-mates, and he offered smart distribution too. The combination of tenacity without the ball and composure with it is something Arsenal's midfield has lacked in recent years, but Torreira was busy and alert throughout.
"I think his process is going very well," reflected Emery afterwards, praising his "humility" and willingness to "listen and learn" every day.
The same could be said for many others in the Arsenal squad judging by their recent progress, but it would be remiss to suggest everything went to plan against Fulham. It is five months now since Emery arrived in England and began to implement his philosophy on these players but in the first half they showed that playing out from the back remains problematic.
Emery: Arsenal process continues
Unai Emery praised Arsenal's "spirit and mentality" after they thrashed Fulham 5-1 on Sunday.
Arsenal's defenders could not cope with Fulham's pressing. There were only three minutes on the clock when Bellerin's slack pass across goal was seized upon by Luciano Vietto, forcing Leno into a smart save, and on the opposite flank Nacho Monreal looked just as uncomfortable, gifting the ball to Frank-Andre Zambo Anguissa before the equaliser.
They were not the only awkward moments. In fact, during those opening 45 minutes, Arsenal misplaced no fewer than 25 passes in their own half - the second-most by any Premier League side in a single half all season. The sloppiness allowed Fulham to rack up 12 shots on goal in the first period alone. A more clinical side would have punished them.
Emery will be aware of the need to improve in that respect, but for now he will savour the positives of their best performance of the season so far. Arsenal are progressing faster than many expected under the new manager - and they are enjoying themselves as they do it.
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