Arsenal continued their run of wins at Fulham's expense earlier today, Saturday, January 18 at the Emirates Stadium and, while they have been accused of merely going through the motions en route to collecting maximum points of late, they are finally changing gears having showed signs of returning to their early season best.
What will encourage Arsene Wenger is that, outside of the four-man defence that he inherited when he took over at N5, the one he has acquired most recently, is arguably the best. The two-man duo at the centre, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are undroppable and, when both start, there must be such a confidence that emanates through the 11-man selection. Koscielny, against the Cottagers, was on top form.
At the attacking end of the field, there were mixed performances. As mentioned by Here Is The City in the Arsenal ratings for the Aston Villa win earlier in the week, Jack Wilshere produced a captain's performance and again, today, he was excellent, dominating the midfield and fortifying his claim as an all-rounder, capable of playing in the hole (where Mesut Ozil was) or, like this afternoon, next to Mathieu Flamini.
Wilshere did not leave with the match-ball, though, as Santiago Cazorla scored both of Arsenal's goals and could have even had a third late in the second half as he gunned for his hat-trick.
The fine work from Gunners pair Wilshere and Cazorla was offset by the form of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud, who were both substandard for a team challenging for the Premier League crown, however, the ideas and excitement generated by young buck Serge Gnabry ensured that Ozil and Giroud's disappearances were not costly at the business end of the park.
While the headlines and the lion's share of footballing prose dedicated to the Emirates Stadium events will focus on the winning ways of Arsenal, the return to their best form, their attacking efficiency and the two-goal heroics of Santi Cazorla, the clean sheet would have been stained had Szczesny not been alert. And, for the two times he was required to produce saves, he never once lost his concentration, with one - a single-handed denial of a Steve Sidwell shot - particularly commendable.
Bacary Sagna - 7.5
Positionally, he mirrored Monreal's box-to-box movement from the flank which thus pinned Fulham's own full backs in their area. Was generally a beast in the air and on the turf, in his own end and in the attacking third. Good performance from the long-serving right back once again.
Laurent Koscielny - 9
Flawless, unlike his defensive partner at centre back. Koscielny, as unbelievable as it reads, recorded perfect statistics of 100% passing accuracy, 100% tackling efficiency, won 100% of his headed challenges, completed 11 clearances and made four interceptions.
Per Mertesacker - 7
Rarely gave the ball away but, unlike Koscielny, he was not pitch perfect as the big German was uncharacteristically caught out of position in the second half. However, aside from momentary blips, he was composed and competent in the pass.
Nacho Monreal - 7.5
Was in the opponent's half far more frequently than in his own and attempted five crosses; a testament to the efficiency of Arsenal's attacking gusto.
Mathieu Flamini - 7
Misplaced just two of his 83 passes - just two! Overshadowed by his midfield partner, Jack Wilshere, but performed the more unglamorous of the two positions admirably.
Jack Wilshere - 9
Scrutinised for inconsistent play in the early part of the current season, the Arsenal academy graduate is now thriving, picking up against Fulham where he left off against Aston Villa. The versatile midfielder fed team-mate Santi Cazorla for the Spaniard's first goal. To demonstrate just how often Wilshere was on the ball, he completed 90% of his attempted passes - an astonishing 95 of 105.
Santiago Cazorla - 9.5
Returned a brace in a single game when it took 26 matches previously to score the same number. Took both his goals well as the first was a swift passing effort that included numerous Gunners playing touch-and-move while the second was an adventurous chance from distance.
Serge Gnabry - 8
He has the ambitious and exciting play one can expect from a highly-touted and self-assured prospect. While many mourned the six-month injury-enforced absence of Theo Walcott, the sidelining of the England international has afforded Gnabry an extended run in Arsene Wenger's selection and the wunderkind is thoroughly repaying his manager's faith in him.
Mesut Ozil - 5.5
Generally anonymous once again, much like he was against Aston Villa. Attempted a good shot early on but then disappeared. A frustrating player as the German obviously is marvelously blessed when it comes to technique, retaining possession and appreciates the pass (87% accuracy from 94 attempts), but considering his price-tag and his recent games, he must begin firing on all cylinders as Arsenal fast approach a season-defining February.
Olivier Giroud - 5.5
The Frenchman polarises Arsenal fans, with Piers Morgan seemingly his biggest critic, however, the towering striker has an exceptional positional nous. When Cazorla struck his second goal, Giroud was ready to pounce on the rebound if Maarten Stekelenburg got a glove to the ball. He was also instrumental in frustrating the goalkeeper when Giroud's midfield attempted a shot on goal, he was finely placed to block Stekelenburg's vision when Gnabry powered a long-range effort goal-ward, with the Dutchman pawing the shot clear in a Hollywood manner. However, he should be more of a direct goal-threat…
Substitutions: Lukas Podolski - 7, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - 6.5.
image: © Ronnie Macdonal