Unai Emery defended his decision to substitute goalscorer Alexandre Lacazette as Arsenal bounced back from their thrashing by Liverpool to beat Fulham 4-1.
The French striker grabbed the Gunners’ second goal in the second half, but was replaced by midfielder Aaron Ramsey with the score at 2-1, soon after the Cottagers’ Aboubakar Kamara reduced the deficit in the 69th minute.
The decision was met by a negative reaction from a large number of home fans.
“I understand the supporters,” said Emery, whose side closed the gap to fourth-placed Chelsea to two points, though Chelsea host Southampton on Wednesday.
“Tactically we thought in that moment we needed to change for more balance. Above all we know Fulham midfielder Jean Michael Seri is coming on and we need a player close to him, not to let him play easily with the ball.
“Ramsey can do that and also help us in attack, and he scored. The reason is this. I need to do my work. And not maybe because every supporter can have a different opinion, tactically.”
The Gunners suffered their heaviest defeat of the season on Saturday when they lost 5-1 at Anfield, but goals from Granit Xhaka, Lacazette, Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang helped them to only their second win in six games.
After Ryan Sessegnon had missed two good chances for Fulham, Xhaka put the hosts ahead, finishing past Sergio Rico after a good cross from the impressive Alex Iwobi.
Lacazette doubled the lead when he finished off Sead Kolasinac’s pull-back following a fine Arsenal passing move.
Kamara pulled one back from close range, but Ramsey scored the Gunners’ third after Aubameyang had hit the post.
Aubameyang’s deflected shot gave Arsenal their fourth and a deserved three points.
Another goal for Aubameyang, but defensive worries continue
It had been a poor festive season for Arsenal as they only managed a 1-1 draw at Brighton on 26 December before their thrashing at Anfield.
The Gunners were again without Mesut Ozil, with the German still sidelined with the knee injury that kept him out of the Liverpool match, while Ramsey, out of contract in the summer and a transfer target for Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Juventus, Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid, was only among the substitutes.
Nevertheless, the hosts took a 25th-minute lead when Xhaka finished from Iwobi’s cross and they ended the first half strongly with chances for Matteo Guendouzi, Xhaka and Aubameyang.
A wonderful passing move down the left wing after 10 minutes of the second half, involving Iwobi, Kolasinac and Lacazette, led to the Gunners’ second as the Frenchman scored his seventh Premier League goal of the campaign.
Fulham pulled one back but Ramsey, who had only been on the pitch for four minutes, scored Arsenal’s third after Aubameyang’s effort had hit the post, before the Gabon striker added a fourth late on after a pass from Sokratis to score his 14th league goal of the season.
Arsenal started the game with three centre-halves – Laurent Koscielny, Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi – but were lucky not to fall behind as Sessegnon twice missed good chances when it was goalless.
The Gunners changed to a back four at half-time but Fulham still created opportunities and Kamara’s goal means Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet in six games in all competitions and have only stopped the opposition from scoring in three of 21 Premier League games in 2018-19.
Kamara back in Ranieri’s good books
Arsenal’s defensive problems do not compare to those of Claudio Ranieri’s side, though. The Cottagers have now conceded 47 goals in 21 games, six more than any other side in the top flight.
Fulham had an early warning as Aubameyang missed a chance in only the second minute before Sessegnon should have given the visitors the lead but shot wide when he only had Bernd Leno to beat and then missed his kick from six yards out from Andre Schurrle’s inviting cross.
Those misses proved costly as Xhaka was given too much space in the penalty area – escaping marker Tim Ream to finish past Sergio Rico and put the hosts in front.
Ranieri’s team still had chances, but were again poor at the back as they were sliced apart with a beautifully-crafted goal from Lacazette after a fine passing move down the left wing.
But for all their defensive problems, Fulham were still creating opportunities and Mitrovic, who had earlier had a header saved on the line by Bernd Leno, was again denied by the German, before substitute Kamara tapped in from Sessegnon’s cross.
In Fulham’s previous match against Huddersfield, the Cottagers were awarded a penalty and Kamara grabbed the ball off normal penalty taker Mitrovic before seeing his effort saved by Terriers’ goalkeeper Jonas Lossl.
Fulham still won that game 1-0, thanks to Mitrovic’s late injury-time winner, but it did not stop manager Ranieri saying he “wanted to kill” the French forward after that match.
“Abou is a good boy. I said the matter was finished – he apologised to everybody,” added the Italian after Tuesday’s game.
Kamara’s goal made it 2-1 to Arsenal, but any hopes of a Fulham fightback were quickly ended with two more Arsenal goals in a four-minute spell late on.
Ranieri’s poor run against Arsenal continues – the stats
- Arsenal have scored 10 Premier League goals this season courtesy of substitutes, more than any other team.
- Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri has never won a Premier League match against Arsenal in 11 attempts (drew four, lost seven) and has a worse points-per-game ratio against the Gunners (0.36) than he does versus any other opponent in the competition.
- Arsenal have kept just one clean sheet in their last 14 Premier League games.
- Granit Xhaka has scored three Premier League goals in 20 appearances for Arsenal in 2018-19 – as many as in his previous two seasons combined (3 in 70 games).
- Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi has been directly involved in three goals in his last four Premier League appearances (1 goal, 2 assists), as many as in his previous 16 in the competition.
- Three of Alexandre Lacazette’s seven Premier League goals for Arsenal this season have come against Fulham.
- Since the start of last season, Ryan Sessegnon has been directly involved in 31 league goals (including play-offs) for Fulham (18 goals, 13 assists), eight more than any other player for the club.
- Arsenal defender Sokratis registered an assist for the first time in his last 120 games in Europe’s big five leagues, since 12 April 2014 (Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich).
Man of the match – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
‘We don’t have the quality of Arsenal’ – what they said
Arsenal manager Unai Emery: “We wanted to win and this result will give confidence. We continued to push and create chances and we can be happy.
“It is normal for the fans to have some doubt at 2-1, but the team continued to do their work and played our planned game. I thought we deserved the scoreline. We scored with different players and we can continue to build our identity with the players.”
On whether the club will be active in the transfer market: “It depends if the transfer market can help you – only if there are players who can help us in different positions. The club is looking to see.”
Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri, speaking to Sky Sports: “If you analyse the first half hour we created two great chances. The home crowd thought, ‘what happened’ and started to boo their players.
“But then Arsenal scored with their first chance because of our mistake and then we made another mistake and they scored. But we were back at 2-1 but then made more mistakes.
“We then got a little tired and we don’t have the quality of Arsenal. It was not bad our performance.”
On any potential signings in January: “Maybe it’s something we have to do – I will speak to the owner.
“I’m very, very pleased with my players. If we have the chance to buy some good players then welcome.”
Both sides’ next matches come in the third round of the FA Cup with Arsenal at League One side Blackpool on Saturday, 5 January (17:30 GMT), before Fulham entertain League Two outfit Oldham Athletic the following day (14:00 GMT).
Their next Premier League games come on 12 January, with Arsenal away at West Ham, and Fulham at fellow strugglers Burnley.