Gabriel scores on debut as Arsenal beat Fulham on season opener


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.

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.

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.

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

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, reportedly set for a move away.

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.

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.

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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