Premier League - Nasri magic puts Arsenal top

Sat, 04 Dec 16:56:00 2010

Two brilliant goals from Samir Nasri gave Arsenal an edgy 2-1 win over a spirited Fulham side to put the Gunners top of the Premier League after Chelsea drew at home to Everton.

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Nasri opened and completed the scoring with virtuoso solo goals that sandwiched a strike from Diomansy Kamara in a match that was scrappy and disjointed at times.

The Frenchman’s winner came with a quarter of an hour remaining, during which Fulham bombarded the home side’s goal but to no avail as Dickson Etuhu missed two late chances.

Arsenal exploited yet another Chelsea failure as the Blues were held at Stamford Bridge by Everton, while Manchester United’s inactivity - their match at Blackpool was called off - leaves Arsene Wenger’s side top of the pile.

Defeat leaves Fulham hanging precariously above the drop zone, clear of Wigan only on goal difference after the Latics drew with Stoke.

As one would expect at the Emirates, Arsenal utterly dominated the first half while Fulham looked desperate at times and were restricted to long balls to the lonely Kamara.

But the hosts only had one goal to show for it, Nasri with a trademark dribble and searing finish into the top right after a poor touch from Aaron Hughes played in Andrei Arshavin just before the quarter hour.

That the Gunners were not out of sight by the half-hour mark was thanks to fine goalkeeping from Mark Schwarzer, as the Australian denied Arshavin three times, while Alex Song put a volley wide after good play by Nasri and Tomas Rosicky.

Arsenal were cutting a ragged Fulham apart as young Matthew Briggs - who was subbed off on 29 minutes - was given the runaround by Nasri in particular.

But they paid for their profligacy on the half hour when, after a clash of heads with Sebastien Squillaci left the hapless Laurent Koscielny nursing a head injury, Clint Dempsey poked the ball through as Kamara stayed onside for once to finish neatly past Lukasz Fabianski.

A lengthy delay followed while Koscielny was treated and then stretchered off as Arsenal seemed rattled by the goal and the apparent concussion.

It took them some time to regain their rhythm as, later in the half, Marouane Chamakh failed to beat Schwarzer - who this week signed a new deal to cool rumours linking him to Arsenal - when handed free headers by a Jack Wilshere free-kick and a Bacary Sagna cross.

Indeed it was Fulham who could and should have gone into half-time ahead with Arsenal thankful that Fabianski was able to deny Kamara with a superb stop at his feet after Etuhu sent the Senegal forward one-on-one.

The second half started scrappily, as Fulham sensed an upset and Arsenal struggled to restore their territorial dominance.

Eventually the hosts took the initiative, as Rosicky fired just wide and after a mazy run Arshavin forced a smart stop from Schwarzer, who was becoming his nemesis.

That seemed to spark Fulham into action as they entered a brief spell of pressure that culminated in Etuhu heading wide from a corner.

A lull followed as Arsenal lacked inspiration, only threatening the goal when Song fired well wide after a mistake from John Pantsil.

Fulham were happy to sit deep and slow the pace of the game and they went close themselves when substitute Robin van Persie cleared Zoltan Gera’s header off the line after Fabianski failed to dominate his area at a corner.

That initiated a spell where Fulham believed they could win the game, as a cross from Davies wreaked havoc from the right - Squillaci with a desperate clearance - while a Brede Hangeland flick-on was met by a Gera bicycle kick that flew wide.

But against the run of play the brilliance of Nasri again put Arsenal ahead.

Nasri combined with Van Persie on the edge of the box before dribbling around Schwarzer and - from the tightest of angles - spinning on a sixpence before clipping a perfect finish beyond the lunge of Hughes.

Fulham rallied and should have levelled, with Etuhu the wrong man in the right place on two occasions as he first poked wide from Dempsey’s flick on and then miscontrolled from the USA international’s pass, allowing Johan Djourou to clear.

The Cottagers were piling it on, as Fabianski did well to keep out a stinging effort from Gera, but Arsenal rode the predominantly aerial threat to hold on to victory and rise a point above Manchester United and two ahead of Chelsea.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

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