Arsenal 2 – 1 Fulham
By Chris Whyatt
Two flashes of genius from Samir Nasri nudged Arsenal past Fulham at the Emirates and took them to the top of the Premier League table.
He lashed the hosts into an early lead after dancing inside two defenders and Arsenal then wasted a host of chances.
But Nasri decided the match late on after jinking past a posse of defenders to slip the ball home from an angle.
Thanks to the France international, who now has 11 goals from midfield this season, Arsenal stand a point clear of Manchester United after putting back-to-back home league defeats behind them.
Fulham’s atrocious record on the road, though, continues and they have now failed to win a Premier League away game since the opening day of last season.
Wenger praises ‘natural’ Nasri
Yet Mark Hughes’s team came close to an upset, rattling Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal by pressing hard for a second goal to take the lead – even pushing for a last-gasp equaliser – either side of Nasri’s winner.
After quickly building up a head of steam, Arsenal nearly took a fifth-minute lead but Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer made a superb point-blank stop after rushing out of goal to block a cushioned volley from Arsenal forward Andrey Arshavin.
But it was simply a matter of time, 13 minutes in fact, before Fulham’s defence was breached with the lively Arshavin pouncing on a mistake from Aaron Hughes before charging towards the area.
Just when he appeared to lose control of the ball, the little Russian prodded a clever pass through to Nasri.
Steaming in at a smart angle, he collected the ball in his stride before stepping inside two defenders to lash an emphatic left-foot shot into the roof of the net.
Arsenal continued to slice through Fulham, yet they soon fell victim to their biggest weakness – over-elaboration.
This was illustrated perfectly when Chamakh wastefully passed the ball back to Jack Wilshere when a more ruthless striker would have finished the chance.
It was then Fulham who almost extended Arsenal’s lead. After Nasri had jinked along the touchline before cutting the ball back across goal, Schwarzer saved well as his team-mate Dickson Etuhu poked the cross towards his own goal.
Alex Song volleyed just wide seconds later when well placed before Fulham got back into the match in bizarre fashion.
Sebastien Squillaci accidentally head-butted team-mate Koscielny in the nose as they both attempted to clear a high ball.
Fulham striker Clint Dempsey seized possession and evaded Song with great footwork before releasing Kamara, who ran free unmarked as Koscielny clutched his nose in pain.
The Senegalese forward’s finish – one touch, an instant curled shot past Lukasz Fabianski – was clinical.
Wenger was distraught that referee Chris Foy had not stopped the match for Koscielny’s head injury, which caused him to be taken off on a stretcher and replaced with Johan Djourou.
But the goal stood and Kamara set about exposing the re-jigged back-line as Fulham began to get a grip on the game.
There were good chances before half-time for both teams. Bacary Sagna whipped over a cross for Chamakh, who headed straight into Schwarzer’s arms, and then Kamara breached the offside trap to get one-on-one with Fabianski, forcing the Pole to save smartly.
Arsenal started the second period well, with Rosicky slashing a low volley just wide of the post before Schwarzer saved low with his feet from Arshavin’s shot after he had skilfully jinked into space 10 yards out.
Robin van Persie replaced Rosicky just after the hour, as the match briefly became bad-tempered.
Song slashed wildly over when well placed after John Pantsil gave the ball away following an aggressive tussle between the pair.
Fabianski then rashly went for a cross but did not make it and Zoltan Gera’s header had to be hacked away off the line before the Hungarian flashed a well-executed overhead kick just wide.
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Hughes happy with Fulham belief
But, with Fulham pressing hard, Nasri decided the match with a moment that will live long in the memory.
Following slick play by Arshavin and Van Persie, the little midfielder ran on to the Dutchman’s short pass into the heart of Fulham’s penalty area side-stepping a series of challenges.
After sliding the ball past Schwarzer and opening up the goal it looked like he had gone too wide – but Nasri span his body round to curl home a shot before Brede Hangeland could get back to cover.
Djourou then nearly put the ball into his own goal but, luckily, his awkward header flew wide before Chamakh again failed to hit the target with a decent opportunity.
Gera again threatened with a dangerous shot but Fabianski held on and a relieved Arsenal moved to the top of this unpredictable league.