WATCH Highlights: Arsenal beat Fulham in EPL season opener

Arsenal players celebrate

Debutants Gabriel and Willian impressed as Arsenal blew away promoted Fulham in the opening game of the Premier League season.

Former Chelsea winger Willian had a hand in all three goals and Gabriel – a £23m signing from Lille – scored in his first game in English football.

Arsenal were highly impressive, while Fulham caused themselves too many problems at the back.

Both sides have played and won at Wembley – twice for the Gunners – in the 48 days since the last Premier League season finished.

Alexandre Lacazette scored the opener from close range after Willian’s effort was saved.

Centre-back Gabriel then scored from Willian’s corner with his shoulder. Willian, who also hit a post from a free-kick, picked out Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng with a perfect cross-field ball and the captain curled home Arsenal’s third.

Arteta admitted he was surprised at how well Gabriel played on his first game since March when Ligue 1 was curtailed.

“He hadn’t played any football for six months so to come and play a game in the Premier League after training with the team for three or four days is a big task,” he told BBC Sport.

“The boy showed a lot of character and what he can do. He can still improve a lot but he had a really good game.

“Willian knows the league, the country and is very settled here so I knew his performance would settle straight away.”

Fulham created few chances, with last season’s top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic coming on with only 27 minutes to go and forcing Bernd Leno into a save.

Slick Arsenal catch the eye

There were signs of improvement under boss Mikel Arteta last season, with Arsenal showing a new defensive solidity and looking confident going forward.

They won the FA Cup final and Community Shield – against Chelsea and Liverpool respectively – at either end of August.

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Despite a pre-season break of less than a month, they are in good shape if this performance is anything to go back.

Arteta said: “On the first day you always have butterflies. It’s been a strange pre-season. Yesterday was the first day we had the full squad together training.”

Arsenal substitutes Dani Ceballos and Eddie Nketiah clashed twice in the pre-match warm-up over a training drill, but there was total harmony among the 11 players who started.

Fulham had little answer to Arteta’s tactics. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was nominally a left wing-back but spent a lot of his game in midfield, with central defender Kieran Tierney playing almost as a left-back.

Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka, whose Arsenal careers looked over last season, had solid performances in midfield.

Leno started in goal, with Emiliano Martinez, who ended last season as number one with Leno injured, set to join Aston Villa for £20m.

For the fourth season in a row it took less than 10 minutes for the opening goal of a Premier League season, with Lacazette becoming the first player to score the first goal in two different seasons. He made no mistake from close range after Marek Rodak parried Willian’s shot.

The dominant Gunners should have been further clear at half-time, with Willian striking the base of a post with a fine free-kick.

The second half followed the same pattern and Arsenal made the game safe.

Gabriel became the third Arsenal defender to score on his Premier League debut as he turned home Willian’s corner. He tried to head the ball but it went in via his shoulder. The new laws this season say if the ball hits the area where a T-shirt sleeve would be, that it is not handball.

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Aubameyang scored the pick of the goals with a trademark curling effort from another Willian pass.

Willian is the first player to assist two goals on his Premier League debut for Arsenal since Ray Parlour in August 1992 against Liverpool.

Arsenal could have scored more if they needed, but this will be exactly what Arteta, whose job title changed from head coach to manager this week, wanted to see.

Have Fulham learned from past mistakes?

Fulham were relegated in each of their past two Premier League seasons, in 2013-14 and 2018-19 – conceding the most goals in the league both times.

The last time they were promoted they spent more than £100m and played a new-look team in a miserable season.

But this time boss Scott Parker started with 10 of the 11 players who beat Brentford in the Championship play-off final on 4 August, with no new signings getting on to the pitch.

Mitrovic, who was not fully fit for their Wembley win after scoring 26 goals, was on the bench again.

Fulham will hope not many of their games are as tough as playing in-form Arsenal, but there were signs this could be another leaky season at the back.

The opening goal came from their own mistake. Tim Ream blocked a Xhaka shot and should have cleared it, but he let Willian take the ball and shoot, leading to Lacazette’s goal.

One attempt to play out from the back led to Elneny having a shot blocked and Xhaka shooting over.

There was little to get excited about at the other end, with two shots on target and both from outside the box – Denis Odoi after seven minutes and Mitrovic after 67.

There are decisions, then, for Fulham and Parker on whether to stick with the approach that got them promoted.

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“The big lesson today is to understand the fine margins in this division mean you can get punished,” he told BBC Match of the Day.

“When you are a team like us that has come from the Championship you can’t let defeat after defeat really cripple you. We are going to lose more than we win but as a team you have to keep learning and developing.

“It has been a quick turnaround for us. We have brought players in that will improve us and hopefully there will be more. We need to get them up to speed quickly.”

Man of the match – Gabriel

Match stats – Fulham’s poor derby record continues

  • Fulham have lost their past 11 top-flight London derbies – including 10 defeats in 2018-19 – the longest run by a club in top-flight history.
  • Arsenal have won their first game in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2009-10.
  • Fulham have lost their first game in three consecutive league seasons for the first time since 2006-07 to 2008-09, losing to Arsenal in the second of those games in 2007-08.
  • Eleven Brazilians have now appeared for Arsenal in the Premier League, with only Chelsea and Manchester City boasting more (12 each).
  • Arsenal have scored the first goal of a Premier League season four times, with only Liverpool doing so more often (5).
  • Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette has netted four goals in three Premier League appearances against Fulham, more than against any other side in the competition.
  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the first player to score on the opening weekend in consecutive Premier League seasons for Arsenal since Robert Pires in 2003-04 and 2004-05.


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