Fulham 2-1 Arsenal: Gunners denied top spot as Decordova-Reid seals comeback win for Cottagers

The final Premier League fixture for both Fulham and Arsenal in 2023 took centre stage at Craven Cottage on New Year’s Eve. Marco Silva’s side were on a run of three straight Premier League defeats; the most recent of those coming at Bournemouth on Boxing Day. Mikel Arteta’s Gunners suffered a shock loss at home to West Ham United last time out and were eager to put things right to be top of the pile going into 2024. 

FUL: Leno; Castagne, Adarabioyo, Bassey, Robinson; Cairney, Palhinha; Iwobi, Willian, DeCordova-Reid; Jimenez

ARS: Raya; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Kiwior; Odegaard, Rice, Havertz; Martinelli, Saka, Nketiah

Arsenal knew they needed a good start in West London, and they almost had the perfect one as Martin Odegaard won the ball back from Antonee Robinson and cut inside before bending a wonderful effort just shy of the top corner. 

However, Mikel Arteta’s side did break the deadlock just moments after as Gabriel Martinelli’s run down the left hand side saw the Brazilian step inside past Joao Palhinha and get his shot away. Fulham stopper Bernd Leno did palm the ball away but only as far as Bukayo Saka, who tapped in the rebound.

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The Cottagers did eventually grow back into the game when the ball was played out to Willian, who laid the ball off to Robinson down the left hand side. The American then whipped the ball in towards Raul Jimenez, whose tame effort from the edge of the box saw David Raya collect the ball comfortably. Willian also saw teasing long-range effort fly just wide of the far post, following an excellent ball in from Alex Iwobi.

Marco Silva’s side did level matters in the 29th minute when Willian played the ball through to Tom Cairney down the left hand side. The Scottish international’s pinpoint ball in reached Raul Jimenez at the far post, who steered the ball home to mark his return to Fulham’s starting eleven.

The Gunners almost went back in front with three minutes to go before the break as a couple of passes exchanged between England colleagues Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice saw the latter find Gabriel Martinelli, whose first time effort whiskered past the far post. Eddie Nketiah also saw his strike just wide of the near post in first-half stoppage time.

After a quiet opening 15 minutes of the second half, a dangerous delivery in from the right hand side by Willian from a corner found Joao Palhinha in the Arsenal box. The Portuguese then flicked the ball on, albeit with the help of deflections off Rice and substitute Takehiro Tomiyasu, towards Bobby Decordova-Reid, who steered the ball home from right in front of David Raya.

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Fulham could have increased their advantage when Tom Cairney took aim from the edge of the box and fired a shot towards the top corner, but David Raya was equal to it and made a great save. 

Andreas Pereira, who came on for Alex Iwobi, was also unlucky not to find the back of the net with a sumptuous free kick that came back off the bar. 

The Cottagers managed to see off a late wave of strikes from Bukayo Saka and substitute Leandro Trossard to pick up their first win in four Premier League games.

Both sides are next in action in the FA Cup next weekend, with Fulham welcoming the Championship’s basement side Rotherham United to Craven Cottage on Friday at 7:30pm, and Arsenal hosting Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium two days later at 4:30pm.