Fulham started 2019 with a 4-1 defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates on New Year’s Day.
A first half Granit Xhaka goal somewhat against the run of play saw the hosts take a narrow one goal lead into the break. Alexandre Lacazette struck shortly after half-time before Aboubakar Kamara scored to give the Whites hope. However, with 10 minutes remaining Aaron Ramsey rifled into the top right-hand corner to restore a two goal cushion. With time ticking down Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added a fourth.
Claudio Ranieri made four changes to the side that picked up a crucial three points against Huddersfield Town just three days prior. Ryan Sessegnon, Maxime Le Marchand, Ibrahima Cissé & André Schürrle were all brought into the starting XI for the Whites.
It was a tentative opening to the game from both sides with Fulham content to keep men behind the ball and soak up waves of Arsenal attacks. Despite an early chance for Aubameyang the opening 10 minutes passed without incident.
After absorbing the pressure, the Whites came close to opening the scoring in the 15th minute with a textbook counter attack. After winning possession just inside the Arsenal half, Tom Cairney slipped a perfectly weighted ball through into the path of Sessegnon. With defenders scrambling to get back, Sess took aim and looked to curl one in the far corner past the onrushing Bernd Leno. His effort fizzed past the post and the game remained in deadlock.
Despite the visitors looking comfortable it was the Gunners who opened the scoring in the 25th minute. With Fulham sitting back the ball was worked slowly out to the left wing and to the feet of Alex Iwobi. After taking a quick glance up the winger swung a teasing ball into the box. Lacazette smartly let the ball past and in the blink of an eye Xhaka chested it and placed a neat shot into the right hand corner. A cruel goal to concede after a composed opening.
Things almost went from bad to worse in the 35th minute when Arsenal produced a moment of brilliance to scythe through the Whites defence. A neat link up between Sead Kolašinac and Xhaka resulted in another golden opportunity for the Swiss midfielder. With Fulham bodies rushing to smother him in the box, Sergio Rico stood up well to parry away his right-footed effort.
A surreal atmosphere at the Emirates, with barely any noise generated by the home fans. It felt more like a lazy summer afternoon at the cricket rather than a Premier League football match.
The crowd was jolted into life just before half-time when Lacazette was slipped in behind the Fulham back line inside the box. However, Rico once again proved a wily adversary for the French striker. A brilliant save with his right foot denied a second for the hosts.
The referee brought the first half to a close with the home side holding a slender one goal lead.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first with neither side able to generate any attacking threat. A slow paced stand-off with Fulham looking to catch the opposition napping on the counter.
It was time yet again for the obligatory stand and cheer for 15 seconds for the home fans as Arsenal doubled their lead in the 55th minute. Aubameyang attacked the Fulham box and played a wonderfully timed through ball into the path of Kolasinac. The Bosnian defender kept his composure and slid a neat pass back into the feet of Lacazette. With time and space to pick his spot the Frenchman slammed a shot high into the roof of the net.
With 20 minutes remaining Fulham continued to push and pulled a goal back to put pressure on the hosts. Two second half substitutes were heavily involved. Jean Michaël Seri, who looked tidy after being inserted in the centre of midfield fed the ball out to Cairney just outside the box. The skipper played Sessegnon clean through on the left hand side of the box. With the Arsenal defence in tatters Sess crossed to an unmarked Kamara at the back post to slot in. A lovely move from Fulham.
With hope of grabbing a leveller, Ramsey quelled the chance of a point with 10 minutes remaining. After a low shot cannoned off the post and fell kindly to the Welshman in the box, he made no mistake and smashed home into the top corner.
Minutes later the hosts pulled further in front. Aubameyang was picked out in space just inside the box and he looked to place a right-footed shot beyond Rico in the Fulham net. The ball clipped off the outstretched leg of Tim Ream and looped up over the commanding goalkeeper and fell nicely into the net.
You could hear a pin drop in the Emirates as the referee brought the match to a close. A harsh scoreline in a match where Fulham had showed good spirit and on another day might have picked up a few more goals for their efforts.