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Fulham 2-1 Arsenal: Cottagers overcome crisis to add to Gunners misery

Fulham came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 at Craven Cottage in the final Premier League fixture of 2023 today.

Bereft of confidence after losing their last three league outings without scoring, Fulham took the field terrified of extending a dreadful five-game losing home streak against Arsenal.

Marco Silva’s side have fared terribly in the recent Premier League London derbies they’ve hosted, losing five of their last seven such fixtures ‘to nil,’ reinforcing fears among the Craven Cottage faithful.

The game couldn’t have started any worse for the Cottagers, as they conceded the opening goal only five minutes after the first whistle.

After zig-zagging past several Fulham defenders, Gabriel Martinelli riffled a thunderous low shot towards the far post, only for Bernd Leno to pull off a superb save to thwart him.

Unfortunately for the ex-Gunner, his backline’s poor reaction allowed Bukayo Saka to pounce on a fortunate rebound and tap the ball into an empty net.

It was a dream start for Mikel Arteta’s title-bidding side following a disheartening 2-0 midweek defeat to other London rivals West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium.

Winless in three of their last four Premier League matches (D1, L2), Arsenal knew only a victory at Craven Cottage would hand them a provisional lead at the summit at the end of 2023.

Saka’s opener suggested they were on the right trajectory before Raul Jimenez’s equaliser midway through the first half poured cold water on the visitors.

Fulham captain Tom Cairney delivered an exquisite lofted pass into the Mexican’s stride. He received the ball inside the box and showed composure to slot it past David Raya.

Raya came out on top of their head-to-head duel 15 minutes earlier, but he was powerless as the Cottagers deservedly returned to the scoresheet for the first time since December 10.

Arsenal had no one but themselves to blame for entering half-time on level terms.

Martin Odegaard picked out Martinelli with a defence-splitting pass, but the Brazilian’s finish let him down as he failed to hit the target from point-blank range.

On the stroke of the interval, Eddie Nketiah spurned another decent opportunity to restore the Gunners’ lead, firing a whisker wide of the post from a promising position.

As it often happens in football, a side to waste their chances gets punished for profligacy.

With the game approaching the half-hour mark, Fulham turned the game on its head through Bobby Decordova-Reid.

Joao Palhinha outjumped his marker to connect his header with Willian’s corner-kick delivery.

Although Arsenal defenders blocked his attempt, a loose ball fell nicely for the Jamaica international, who thumped it home from the six-yard box to complete the turnaround.

Only a few minutes after falling behind, Arsenal had a golden chance to settle the score, but Saka unfathomably skied the ball over the crossbar from a couple of yards out.

It was Fulham’s turn to threaten Raya’s goal as Cairney’s delightful curled effort from the edge of the box forced the Spaniard into a phenomenal diving save.

Silva’s team relinquished possession in the final 15 minutes, allowing the Gunners to control the tempo, albeit keeping them at arm’s length almost effortlessly.

Like in Thursday’s clash against West Ham, Arsenal had no idea how to break down their opponents’ deep block, failing to create anything meaningful in front of Leno’s goal.

A sense of emergency reappeared briefly beyond the 80th minute, but Arsenal couldn’t find a way past Fulham’s water-tight backline.

Second-half substitute Andreas Pereira almost ended the Gunners’ bid to avoid defeat in the 87th minute. However, his well-driven free-kick rattled off the bar.

Despite being handed a lifeline, the Gunners’ body language gave the impression they had already given up any hope of preventing Fulham from posting their first H2H home win since 2012.

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