Fulham 1 Arsenal 3
The vultures were circling.
The press room at Craven Cottage was packed to the rafters, every seat taken — and they had come to witness the latest step of a slide into ignominy for a grand old club and its venerable manager.
There are all sorts of stories emerging in the Premier League, but the perceived descent of Arsenal into further anonymity has generated huge attention. A feeble attempt at making a statement of intent in the transfer market has angered fans who pay the highest prices in the country yet are left watching a team competing, at best, for fourth place.
So a defeat here, to follow on from the abject display against Aston Villa, would have fitted the script rather nicely.
Arsenal had other ideas. This victory was clinical and impressive, indicative of a team that may prefer to play away rather than in front of their own demanding fans.
And Arsenal are determined to rewrite a tale that seems pre-destined. Failure to buy, failure to perform and a season spent chasing Tottenham’s shadow is not what they expect in N5.
The club also feels the criticism that has come their way is unfair. The word from within the Emirates is that just two bids have been made for players — Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, and Yohan Cabaye of Newcastle.
The remainder, they feel, consists of agents attempting to get rich on the back of the Arsenal name.
An example of that is Julio Cesar, QPR’s Brazilian goalkeeper. With a World Cup on the horizon the former Inter Milan man is understandably keen not to play in the Championship, but Arsenal told his agent they were not interested in the player back in March. They are convinced the agent has been briefing to the contrary since then in an attempt to build a market for his client.
Every time Arsenal make any form of inquiry the story is leaked immediately — but this is part of the game, a game they haven’t played well in recent years.
Arsenal are seen as easy meat, a club who are rich, desperate and unsure quite what to do next. An example of that is Cabaye. He has been on the radar for months yet a bid was only lodged shortly before Newcastle’s season began at Manchester City, rather than when the window opened.
The squad is desperately short of numbers, and quality additions are clearly required — preferably before the crunch game with Tottenham on Sunday.
But the players who are there have enjoyed a resurgence, winning well at Fenerbahce in midweek before dominating in the rain in west London, with Olivier Giroud opening the scoring before Lukas Podolski answered his critics with a well-taken double.
And there is a spirit that other, more talented Arsenal sides have lacked.
"We wanted to show the squad is mobilised and are together," said Giroud, who now has three goals in three games.
"We want to show together an answer on the pitch. We scored three again and are really confident again. I am in a good run. I feel really confident and feel good in my game. I do the job on the pitch and have no doubts, no more questions.
"If a new striker is coming it is a good thing for the squad and I try to give it up for the team to win and nothing more."
And with Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, in particular, showing real signs of improvement, it is easy to believe that Arsenal’s first choice 11 will be stronger than last season — especially so if Bacary Sagna can continue his late-career transformation into a high-class centre-back.
But more is needed. A statement of intent was promised but so far Spurs have been busy buying players Arsenal could have gone for. Some feel Wenger should have gone for Darren Bent, who scored a consolation here for Fulham on his debut.
Fulham, for their part, should have an entertaining season. With Dimitar Berbatov, Adel Taarabt and Bryan Ruiz in their side that is almost guaranteed — but a mid-table finish is the extent of their ambitions.
"You have to take your moments, you have to take your chances, you have to be more greedy," admitted manager Martin Jol afterwards.
FULHAM: Stockdale 6; Reither 6, Hughes 6, Hangeland 6, Riise 6; Duff 5 (Bent 59; 7), Parker 7, Sidwell 5) (Karagounis 75; 6), Taarabt 62; 6 (Kacaniklic 62; 6); Kasami 5; Berbatov 5.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 8; Jenkinson 7, Sagna 8, Mertesacker 8, Gibbs 7; Ramsey 8, Rosicky 7 (Wilshere 70; 7); Walcott 7; Cazorla 8, Podolski 8 (Sanogo 81; 6); Giroud 8 (Monreal 72; 6).
Referee: Howard Webb.