Fulham 0-3 Arsenal
So, the 2020/21 Premier League is here but for how much longer can it sustain the current situation?
I’m not talking about one of the established Big Six winning easily at a newly promoted club like in this lunchtime opener – the gap in resources and playing squads ensures results like these are predictable 98 times out of 100.
I am talking about the necessity to play matches behind closed doors without fans, the beating heart and soul of the game.
Just 24 hours before this Craven Cottage clash kicked-off the new campaign, league chiefs wrote to the government to express concern at the decisions taken to restrict and potentially delay the planned programme for the return of fans to stadiums.
For each month of the season which passes without fans, more than £100 million is lost to football across the leagues, with consequent damage to the local and national economy. It also harms the employment prospects of more than 100,000 people whose jobs depend on matchday activities.
Arsenal’s decision to make 55 redundancies this summer shows that few clubs are immune to the impact of Covid-19 pandemic.
While health is rightly the priority, in this form, it is hard for too many people to get too excited about the return of top-flight football.
Highlights of the game
Of course, try telling that to Arsenal fans after their side produced opening day Premier League 2020 highlights to ease to victory and added promise following an August which witnessed FA Cup and Community Shield triumphs.
Manager Mikel Arteta gave debuts to new signings Gabriel and winger Willian – defender David Luiz has been ruled out for up to six weeks with a neck injury sustained in the Community Shield win against Liverpool – while Bernd Leno returned in goals in the place of Emiliano Martinez, who has been outstanding when called upon.
Fulham, meanwhile, started with 10 of the 11 from the play-off final win over Brentford but any optimism about being back in the top flight was quickly quashed within the opening 10 minutes.
The SBOTOP Premier League 2020 betting odds never looked like being wrong once Alexandre Lacazette tapped in the opening goal after Marek Rodak made a decent save following pinball in the area.
Willian, who impressed throughout, was only denied a debut goal by the foot of the post from a free-kick, but he did play a part in another debut goal shortly after the restart. He delivered a corner which saw the unmarked Gabriel divert the ball home via his shoulder amidst abysmal defending.
When Willian then picked out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the Gabon striker cut inside and rifled a shot into the far corner. The contest was well and truly over by that point.
In fact, Aubameyang nearly added his second as he danced around Rodak, only for his shot to be nodded off the line by Michael Hector.
That was that and a fairly predictable return to Premier League football – little than a month after the last season concluded – was complete.
How Arsenal fare this season will be interesting to watch – they are definitely improving.
As for Fulham, the Championship play-off winners have avoided relegation in only 12 of the previous 28 Premier League seasons.
Scott Parker will need all his astuteness if they are to avoid following that pattern again.
Willian is the first player to assist two goals on his Premier League debut for Arsenal since Ray Parlour in August 1992 against Liverpool.
Gabriel is the 10th player to score on his Gunners debut and the first to do so in an away match since Thomas Vermaelen in August 2009 versus Everton.
Lacazette has become the first player to score the very first goal of two Premier League seasons (also 2017-18).
Aubameyang has scored 55 goals in 86 Premier League appearances since his debut in February 2018, a league high during that period.
Fulham have only come from behind to win one of their last 52 Premier League games when trailing at half-time (drawn five, lost 46), beating Brighton 4-2 in January 2019.
They have lost their past six Premier League matches against Arsenal.
Arsenal’s only defeat in the past 14 Premier League meetings was 2-1 at Craven Cottage in January 2012.
Fulham finished 19th and were relegated in each of their last two Premier League seasons, in 2013-14 and 2018-19. They conceded the most goals in both of those campaigns.
The Cottagers are currently on a top-flight record run of 11 successive London derby defeats.
The Gunners are undefeated in all five of their previous opening Premier League matches versus newly-promoted opposition (won four, drawn one). Their last opening day league defeat against a promoted side was a 1-0 loss at Highbury to Bristol City in 1976.
Fulham are in League Cup action in midweek as they travel to Anglia to face Ipswich Town at Portman Road in a second round tie.
They then travel to Leeds in the top flight next weekend in a clash of the promoted sides.
Arsenal do not begin their League Cup campaign for 10 days but have their first home league match of the season next Saturday night and it’s a derby against West Ham.
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