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Gunners’ title charge falters again

Bukayo Saka and Kai Harvertz in action for Gunners

Bukayo Saka and Kai Harvertz in action for Gunners

Arsenal’s slump continued as they missed the chance to move top of the Premier League (PL) with a 2-1 defeat against Fulham, bringing to an end the Gunners’s nine-match unbeaten run in away London derbies. 

Having faltered a little of late with back-to-back failures to win, there was an element of pressure on Arsenal to sign off for 2023 in style. They certainly made the perfect start in that quest, as no more than five minutes were on the clock when Bukayo Saka tapped into an unguarded net after former Gunners stopper Bernd Leno palmed Gabriel Martinelli’s initial effort straight into his path. Arsenal seemed to go into their shell a little after that opener and that suited Fulham, who sensed fragility and duly drew level midway through the first half when Tom Cairney’s inch-perfect cross was swept home by Raúl Jiménez. That’s quite the turnaround for Jiménez, who has now scored four goals in as many PL appearances – equalling his tally from the 50 prior.

But in truth, Fulham were lucky that his strike sent them into the break level, as a momentary lapse in defensive concentration allowed Martin Ødegaard to tee up Martinelli in the area but his effort rolled agonisingly wide of the post. That was a huge let-off for Fulham, who took full advantage of their reprieve shortly before the hour mark when a corner caused mayhem in the Arsenal box, and after a bout of penalty box pinball, Bobby De Cordova-Reid slammed the Cottagers into a surprise lead.

Mikel Arteta couldn’t believe his side didn’t hit back straight away, yet after scoring his first goal in almost a month in the first half, Saka missed a glorious opportunity to level the scores at the far post. The torrential rain that then ensued at Craven Cottage was somewhat in keeping with the suggestion that it never seems to rain but it pours for the Gunners, who were inching closer towards a third successive winless PL game for the first time this season. In fact, they had David Raya to thank for keeping the deficit to just one goal in the closing stages after he produced a fine stop to deny Cairney from distance.

The Gunners were rather fortunate to not only keep their full contingent on the pitch when a contentious Salbia foul only earned him a yellow card but also not be on the end of a heavier defeat when Andreas Pereira’s strike from the resulting free-kick crashed back off the crossbar. That was a lifeline Arteta’s men ultimately weren’t able to capitalise upon, as their four-match winning run in New Year’s Eve-held fixtures came to a crashing halt, while Fulham held on to secure three points that steer them further clear of the drop zone.

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