Photo via Clive Rose/Pool/PA Images
The Premier League has returned nearly 50 days after the final matches of the 2019-20 season took place in late June and most of July. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta heads into his first full season as club manager as they opened the 2020-21 campaign against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Tensions were high pre-match as midfielder Dani Ceballos, who recently extended his loan from Real Madrid, got into multiple scuffles with striker Eddie Nketiah during warmups.
The kickoff marked the official Arsenal debuts of winger Willian and defender Gabriel Magalhaes. Eight minutes into the match, Willian made an immediate impact on the attack. Granit Xhaka’s shot was blocked but fell right into Willian’s possession who promptly tried to tap the ball past Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak. Rodak deflected the shot wide but Alexandre Lacazette was right there to tap the ball in, giving Arsenal a 1-0 lead.
Willian had an opportunity to score his first goal as an Arsenal player but his free kicked bounced off the post and out of play. 10 minutes later, Xhaka delivered a laser of a pass to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but his shot was saved by Rodak. Arsenal headed in the locker room holding the 1-0 advantage.
The biggest takeaway was the play of Gabriel, who was aggressive and made great defensive stops and challenges all over the pitch. His on-ball defending was on point and his challenges were well-timed. Despite not having played in a competitive match since March, Gabriel looked fresh and composed in the first half.
Both Gabriel and Willian’s debuts got better as in the 49th minute, Willian delivered a perfect corner kick to Gabriel, who tapped a header past Rodak to score his first career goal for Arsenal. Willian notched another assist, his second of the match and his young Arsenal career.
Eight minutes later, Willian picked up his third assist as he found Aubameyang who proceeded to smash the ball into the back of the net to give Arsenal a 3-0 lead.
Arsenal continued to set up chances to increase their advantage but Fulham cleared away those opportunities. Willian was subbed out for Nicolas Pepe, ending his Arsenal debut with a hat-trick in assists. Arsenal rode out the rest of the match, winning 3-0 and taking the first three points of the season.
For Arsenal, aside from the pre-match scuffle, this season could not have started any better. Their two big summer acquisitions, Gabriel and Willian, were the stars of the match. It only took one match for them to be productive and show they belong on the club and the starting XI. At the same time, every player in the starting lineup had moments to shine along with the newcomers. While they faced a newly-promoted club in their first match, this start is what Arsenal fans were hoping for.
Next up for Arsenal is another battle with a London foe as they face West Ham United in their home opener next Saturday.