Arsenal made a convincing start to the new Premier League season as debutants Willian and Gabriel impressed in a 3-0 win at Fulham.
Willian set up Gabriel and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score second-half goals after helping to force Alexandre Lacazette’s unmissable opener.
Mikel Arteta’s side lost their final two away league games of 2019-20 to Tottenham and Aston Villa, but victory at Craven Cottage was comfortably in their grasp as soon as Lacazette struck eight minutes in to become the first player to score the first goal of a Premier League season on two occasions.
Man of the match – Gabriel
Scott Parker’s men enjoyed nearly half of the possession but offered scant threat to the Gunners’ goal as the challenge facing last season’s Championship play-off winners was laid bare.
Fulham started positively but fell behind in disappointing fashion, Lacazette tapping in after Marek Rodak had saved from Willian, all after Aubameyang had been allowed to chase and retrieve a loose ball in the hosts’ box.
Willian almost scored his first Arsenal goal with his first shot, the Brazilian striking the base of the left-hand post from a free-kick on the edge of the box.
Gabriel, who been largely untroubled in defence in the first half, made a telling contribution at the other end four minutes into the second half, diverting Willian’s corner past Rodak with his shoulder.
It was 3-0 before the hour mark, Willian switching play to Aubameyang after winning back the ball in the Fulham half and the Gunners striker curling a fine finish into the top-right corner.
Michael Hector cleared off the line to deny Aubameyang a second and prevent Fulham’s first game back in the top flight from becoming worse.
What does it mean? Refreshed Gunners taking shape
Arteta will be delighted with the way Willian and Gabriel performed on debut, the former earning two assists – the first Arsenal player to do so on debut in the top flight since Ray Parlour in 1992 – and completing all but one of his 26 passes.
The game also means Arsenal have lost just once in seven competitive matches and ended a two-game losing run away from home in the top flight.
Fulham will need to improve sharply if their stay back in the Premier League is going to be a long one – they failed to muster a single shot on target until a tame effort from substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic 67 minutes in.
Gabriel keeps Gunners on solid ground
Although he was barely stretched by an insipid Fulham attack, this was an encouraging debut from new signing Gabriel.
He made two tackles, three clearances and a team-high 107 successful passes and deserved a bit of luck from Willian’s corner as he became the 10th Arsenal player to score on his Premier League debut.
Hector struggled all day to keep Aubameyang in check and he was a little fortunate not to receive a second booking for blocking the striker’s promising run, although he did manage one key block.
Have Fulham learned from past mistakes?
Fulham were relegated in each of their past two Premier League seasons, in 2013-14 and 2018-19 – conceding the most goals in the league both times.
The last time they were promoted they spent more than £100m and played a new-look team in a miserable season.
But this time boss Scott Parker started with 10 of the 11 players who beat Brentford in the Championship play-off final on 4 August, with no new signings getting on to the pitch.
Mitrovic, who was not fully fit for their Wembley win after scoring 26 goals, was on the bench again.
Fulham will hope not many of their games are as tough as playing in-form Arsenal, but there were signs this could be another leaky season at the back.
The opening goal came from their own mistake. Tim Ream blocked a Xhaka shot and should have cleared it, but he let Willian take the ball and shoot, leading to Lacazette’s goal.
One attempt to play out from the back led to Elneny having a shot blocked and Xhaka shooting over.
There was little to get excited about at the other end, with two shots on target and both from outside the box – Denis Odoi after seven minutes and Mitrovic after 67.
There are decisions, then, for Fulham and Parker on whether to stick with the approach that got them promoted.
Arsenal have another London derby next Saturday – at home to West Ham at 20:00 BST.
Fulham visit Ipswich in the EFL Cup on Wednesday (19:00) before travelling to fellow promoted side Leeds in the Premier League next Saturday (15:00).