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Saturday, January 18, 2014
Premier League: Arsenal 2 Fulham 0
Santi Cazorla’s quickfire second-half double secured Arsenal’s fifth straight league success as they beat Fulham to stay top of the Premier League.
The Gunners were unable to find a way through in a scoreless first half, but they comfortably closed out the game after Cazorla netted twice within the space of five minutes to double his tally for the season.
Arsenal should have gone in front in the fourth minute when Mesut Ozil played a one-two with Jack Wilshere and tucked the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg, but without sufficient pace to prevent the sliding Brede Hangeland from clearing it off the line.
From then on, the Gunners’ attacks tended to founder in the final third, with Serge Gnabry finding room for three separate attempts at goal but failing to put any of them on target.
Fulham did make some ground at times along the home side’s left flank, but rarely threatened Wojciech Szczesny’s goal in the first half.
The exception to that pattern came just before the half-hour mark, when Bacary Sagna headed Dimitar Berbatov’s cross straight to Steve Sidwell, whose rasping volley brought a flying save from the Arsenal goalkeeper.
But it was Whites keeper Maarten Stekelenburg who ensured the sides remained deadlocked at half-time with an incredible double stop to deny Sagna and then Olivier Giroud, with a volley at point-blank range.
Arsenal piled on the pressure after the break as Gnabry beat two Fulham men and fired a left-foot shot towards the bottom corner, only to be foiled by Stekelenburg.
Gnabry and Cazorla then had shots blocked in rapid succession, but the breakthrough finally came on 57 minutes as Cazorla cut in from the left, exchanged passes with Wilshere and slammed the return into the net.
And the Spaniard extended his side’s lead five minutes later, pouncing with a low left-foot finish after Nacho Monreal’s cross had reached him via the head of Hangeland.
Lukas Podolski, who replaced Gnabry 20 minutes from time, might have deepened Fulham’s misery when Ozil set him up for a powerful drive that Stekelenburg managed to claw onto the post.
The visitors could have gained a late consolation when substitute Darren Bent galloped onto Sidwell’s through ball and rounded Szczesny, but the angle proved too awkward and he scuffed wide.
Szczesny almost spilled Pajtim Kasami’s low free-kick in added time, but a goal would have flattered Fulham somewhat as the Gunners ran out more convincing winners than the scoreline suggested.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Monreal; Wilshere, Flamini; Gnabry (Podolski 71), Ozil(Oxlade-Chamberlain 86), Cazorla; Giroud.
Fulham: Stekelenburg; Riether, Hangeland, Burn, Richardson; Parker, Sidwell; Dejagah (Bent 68), Dempsey, Kacaniklic (Kasami 86); Berbatov.