Premier League – Arsenal ride luck at Fulham

Third-choice goalkeeper Vito Mannone produced a stunning display to earn Arsenal a 1-0 Premier League win away to Fulham.

Robin van Persie scored the game’s only goal with an exquisite finish on 52 minutes, but the Gunners had Mannone to thank after he made a string of world-class saves.

The 21-year-old Italian was only playing because of injuries to Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski, but made a compelling case for his continued presence in the first-team.

He made an astonishing double save in the 15th minute, when he dived full-length to his right to parry an Andy Johnson header, then recovered quickly to save from Clint Dempsey.

Mannone was again in agile form when Zoltan Gera shot from the right side of the box following a deft touch from Johnson, but the goalkeeper got a glove to it and conceded a corner. And there was more to come.

Fulham had to deal with the early departure of a dazed Damien Duff, who Gera replaced, but acquitted themselves well in spite of the visitors’ greater skill level.

Andrei Arshavin made his return from injury for Arsenal and provided some inventive touches without delivering a knockout blow, while Cesc Fabregas was in typically assertive mood.

The pair combined well for Arsenal’s best chance of the first half; the skipper found his colleague with a wonderful first-time pass but the Russian shot over under pressure.

The match belted along without either side creating many clear chances, but Arsenal always carried the menace of a side able to cut through their opponents with a moment of quality.

That moment came early in the second half, when Fabregas measured a lofted through ball to Van Persie, who controlled exquisitely, and hit a right-footed snapshot inside the left-hand post.

The Dutchman has plenty of competition from Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney, but it was a goal that showed why an on-form Van Persie might just be the best striker in the Premier League.

Frustrated but unbowed, Fulham continued to pour forward, although most of their efforts were misdirected long shots from Dempsey and Bobby Zamora.

But they forced Mannone into action again on 56 minutes when Zamora found Johnson with a cross from the right and the goalkeeper – who had initially been out of position – made a fine diving stop.

There was nothing the goalkeeper could do when bundled over attempting to clear a corner, but Alex Song was on hand to block Zamora’s follow-up shot.

On 78 minutes it was Mannone to the rescue yet again, diving sharply to his right to make a low save from Johnson.

Then, two minutes later, he made arguably the best save of all, a staggering reflex stop to keep out a Zamora header.

Fulham have lost four of their first six matches including two at home, where they were so formidable last term.

Manager Roy Hodgson is not a man prone to pushing the panic button, but there is a fear that Fulham’s Europa League exploits have overstretched their compact squad. It could be a tough season.

Arsene Wenger believes his has been the better team in all seven matches this season – including the defeats against both Manchester clubs – but their reliance on a rookie goalkeeper to keep them in front suggests they are not ready to compete for the title.

Alex Chick / Eurosport

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