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Arsenal 2-0 Fulham Prem 22 1314 Daily Telegraph

last updated Monday 20th January 2014, 5:27 PM
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Oliver Brown at Daily Telegraph

Arsenal (0) 2 Fulham (0) 0

Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla struck twice in the second half as Arsenal beat Fulham 2-0 to stay ahead of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

Cazorla is doing his best to suggest that, but for an extra striker or two, Arsenal are extravagantly furnished with title-winning talents.

The Spaniard dazzled on the Emirates stage: shimmying, slaloming, even performing his own version of Andrés Iniesta's 'La Croqueta' move en route to two lethal finishes that re-established his side's place at the Premier League summit.

For almost an hour Arsenal had toiled, with a lethargy in possession and slowness to the ball that suggested Fulham might arrest their serene progress. But once Cazorla announced himself, through a powerful strike beyond Maarten Stekelenburg that he followed five minutes later with another from outside the box, a sixth league win in succession never looked seriously in doubt.

By the final whistle the chorus of "We are top of the league" was beginning to acquire a more ominous ring for nearest pursuers Manchester City and Chelsea.

Arsenal's anticipated fall from their perch is simply not happening. Each challenge levelled by their rivals is met by performances of a poise and maturity conspicuously lacking in recent seasons. This display, even allowing for their first-half carelessness was no exception.

Only Stekelenburg was keeping Fulham in contention, producing point-blank saves from Olivier Giroud and Serge Gnabry, but Cazorla's intervention made the critical difference to heighten Fulham's relegation concerns.

Arsène Wenger had worked himself into a fearful state on the touchline as Arsenal laboured to make their early superiority count. Indeed, it was Fulham who came closest to forcing the breakthrough when Steve Sidwell's fearsome 25-yard drive drew a fingertips save from Wojciech Szczesny.

Home supporters clamoured for a greater sense of purpose, which at last manifested itself when Cazorla smashed a free-kick against the wall and straight into the path of Bacary Sagna, whose shot was well parried by Stekelenburg, blocking Giroud's follow-up with equally sharp reflexes.

In the second half Arsenal, as befitting a side with such grand aspirations, raised their tempo. Cazorla came off the left to feed Giroud, who deftly found Wilshere inside the box, before the Spaniard lashed the resulting square ball into the net.

The sustained pressure soon threatened to become a bombardment. Nacho Monreal found himself in abundant space on the left but his cross was poor, the headed clearance from Hangeland falling at the feet of Cazorla, who took one touch before angling his strike beyond the unfortunate Stekelenburg.

Arsenal fans were in raptures, and could not resist baiting Darren Bent when the striker - who had scored eight times against them previously - missed a relatively straightforward chance later on.

The win would not make their archive of keepsakes, but of such afternoons are titles potentially made.

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