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Ramsey helps Gunners to rediscover their smile

Arsenal 4 Fulham 1

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Aaron Ramsey celebrates after scoring Arsenal’s third goal against Fulhaml. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Aaron Ramsey celebrates after scoring Arsenal’s third goal against Fulhaml. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

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Aaron Ramsey celebrates after scoring Arsenal’s third goal against Fulhaml. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The width of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's grin said it all for Arsenal, a side who needed a boost and found it in the shape of the Premier League's most charitable defence.

This meeting with Fulham provided Unai Emery's side with four goals, three points and, perhaps most importantly, some belated festive cheer after their chastening defeat by Liverpool at the weekend.

It was not as smooth as the score suggests but this was nonetheless an encouraging return to form for Arsenal after just one win in their past five matches.

Emery's side again veered between scintillating attacking and suspect defending, yet at least this time the good more than outweighed the bad.

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Fulham's Ryan Sessegnon celebrates their goal scored by Aboubakar Kamara. Photo:Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Fulham's Ryan Sessegnon celebrates their goal scored by Aboubakar Kamara. Photo:Eddie Keogh/Reuters

REUTERS

Fulham's Ryan Sessegnon celebrates their goal scored by Aboubakar Kamara. Photo:Eddie Keogh/Reuters

After a fortnight in which he faced more scrutiny than at any other time in his short Arsenal career, Emery was vindicated in his selections and his substitutions.

There were boos from large sections of the home crowd when the Spaniard withdrew the impressive Alexandre Lacazette for Aaron Ramsey, but Emery was proved right within minutes as the midfielder netted an emphatic third.

It was a timely goal for Ramsey, who is now able to negotiate a new deal with foreign clubs ahead of his expected departure at the end of the season.

He is likely to remain at Arsenal until the summer, unless the club can find a buyer who would rather pay a transfer fee now than wait to sign him for free, and these are the sort of interventions that will have the home fans wondering why this has been allowed to happen.

"Sign him up," came the cries after Ramsey's goal.

Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added to their tallies for the season. Admittedly, they were helped by some haphazard defending by Fulham, who have strengthened in recent weeks but still have some distance to go before they can be deemed solid.

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Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

Action Images via Reuters

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

Arsenal's chaotic fourth goal, in particular, was proof that Claudio Ranieri has plenty more work to do if they are to edge their way out of the relegation zone.

Chances

That said, Fulham will rue the failure to take their chances.

Ryan Sessegnon twice spurned clear openings before Granit Xhaka gave Arsenal the lead, and there were moments in the second half when the visitors could have done some damage to the home side's back line, which suffered another injury when Shkodran Mustafi felt a twinge in his hamstring.

Emery described Mustafi's injury as a "small problem", and there will at last be some time for Arsenal to recuperate ahead of their next Premier League match, against West Ham United on January 12. This weekend's trip to Blackpool will surely see plenty of changes, so the clash with Fulham here marked the final push of the most intense time of the year.

Not that you would have known it from Arsenal's stodgy start. Fulham were the better side until Xhaka's first-half strike, a prodded finish after strolling unmarked into the penalty box.

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Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles in action with Fulham's Ibrahima Cisse. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles in action with Fulham's Ibrahima Cisse. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

REUTERS

Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles in action with Fulham's Ibrahima Cisse. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Before that opener, Arsenal were largely unable to work their way up the pitch. Every pass was either hesitant or backwards, and Fulham grew increasingly assured.

The first Sessegnon chance came after he darted in behind Laurent Koscielny, but the 18-year-old curled wide. The second was an even clearer opening, but Sessegnon failed to connect with Andre Schurrle's cross.

Arsenal needed Xhaka's goal to settle their nerves but pushed on impressively after that, Lacazette making it two within 10 minutes of the second half.

Alex Iwobi, Sead Kolasinac and Aubameyang combined beautifully to bewilder the Fulham defence before the ball was cut back to Lacazette. The French striker could hardly miss.

Aboubakar Kamara, the villain on Saturday who had refused to allow Aleksandar Mitrovic to take a penalty against Huddersfield Town, pulled one back for Fulham from Sessegnon's cross, but the arrival of Ramsey, and his subsequent goal, underlined Arsenal's dominance.

Aubameyang added the fourth at the end, when Fulham had comically failed to clear a bouncing ball. Sokratis played it across the box to Aubameyang, whose deflected effort dropped into Sergio Rico's top corner to prompt the Gabon striker's toothy grin.

Such was Arsenal's control that Emery gave minutes to 17-year-old winger Bukayo Saka, who became the first player born in 2001 to play in the Premier League. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk