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Arsenal 2 - Fulham 1: grit, guts, effort

The Gunners battle back to take three points.

Arsenal FC v Fulham FC - Premier League Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

And exhale, Gooners. Arsenal battled back from 1-0 down to defeat Fulham 2-1 and maintain their perfect record in the Premier League. It wasn’t the best performance from Mikel Arteta’s side, especially in the final third where they lacked the cutting edge they had in the opening three matches. But they got the job done, which is all that matters. Today’s comeback win equals the number (one) of comeback wins Arsenal had all of last season.

Past Arsenal teams might not have won today’s match. The goal they conceded — Gabriel Magalhaes getting caught on the ball just outside the box — was the type that might have broken their resolve. But this year’s Arsenal team is built different. Martin Ødegaard essentially willed the team to the equalizer. Gabriel Magalhaes atoned for his error by banging in the winner off a corner kick scrum.

Martin Ødegaard put in a masterful performance on the afternoon, one of his best for the club. He was all over the pitch, dropping deep to help with ball progression, pinging switches from side to side, threading balls through the lines, and combining around the area. With Oleksandr Zinchenko missing out with a (hopefully) minor knee strain and Thomas Partey out with a tight thigh, Arsenal needed someone to step up and dictate the tempo of the match. Ødegaard stepped up in a big way and was every bit the captain with his commanding performance.

Bukayo Saka was more involved and dangerous today, which makes sense because the Arsenal attack wasn’t flowing down the left with Zinchenko out. The elephant in the room is that he hasn’t scored from open play in 14 matches. He’s finding space for shots, including a semi-breakaway today that he couldn’t curl into the corner, but his finishing isn’t where it needs to be right now. To be fair, the final product across the Arsenal attack left plenty to be desired on the afternoon.

Ben White had another solid match. He played centerback all of last season and has transitioned seamlessly to right back as Takehiro Tomiyasu works back from injury. White is doing a great job getting forward into the attack and is doing more than enough defensively. He shut down Wilf Zaha in the opener and managed an early yellow card well in today’s contest. Mikel Arteta will have a decision to make once Tomiyasu is back to full fitness, but it’s a good problem to have.

Aaron Ramsdale made several strong saves when called upon, which is exactly what Arsenal need from him. Of the three goals he’s conceded this season, two have been on Arsenal mistakes. The defense is playing well in front of him, too.

Ramsdale’s counterpart, Bernd Leno, was quite good on the afternoon as well. I was getting annoyed with him successfully claiming Gabriel Martinelli’s floated corners to the back post. It’s almost as if he knew what Arsenal like to do. After Leno caught two, Martinelli drove one lower and harder to the near post. Leno missed it. Arsenal scored the winner. It’s fitting that the Bernd-Leno-on-corners that Gooners knew and despised turn up at the last.

Eddie Nketiah made a difference as a substitute. His energy and movement caused problems for Fulham, and he created several chances for himself and his teammates. That’s exactly what the Gunners need from him as a role player this season — immediate impact off the bench.

There are no easy games in the Premier League this year (save for Bournemouth, probably). If you want to finish in the top four and push Manchester City and Liverpool, you’re going to have to find ways to win when you aren’t at your best. Arsenal were missing two important players who picked up injuries late in the week. They conceded the type of goal that can sap your energy early in the second half. But they stuck with it, fought hard, and earned full points.

Arsenal have already shown they can win pretty. They just showed they can win ugly, too. There’s something about this bunch.