In his programme notes, the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, felt moved to defend Samir Nasri's penchant for wearing a snood and gloves. After the way Nasri played, with two goals that put Arsenal top of the Premier League, Wenger might feel the need to wrap him in cotton wool as well.
Nasri scored two goals of breathtaking quality. The 23-year-old simply gets better and better and with his 10th and 11th goals of the season he won a game in which Arsenal struggled to put away a determined Fulham side.
Nasri started as if on a mission to win the game on his own. He gave Fulham's left-back, Matthew Briggs, such a roasting that the teenager was withdrawn after half an hour and replaced by Chris Baird. By then, though, the damage had been done.
Nasri's first goal was brilliant. Andrey Arshavin, who was booed by the Fulham fans for his work in midweek in earning the 2018 World Cup for Russia, capitalised on a mistake by Aaron Hughes to feed Nasri, cutting in from the right. With one dummy Nasri cut inside Brede Hangeland and with a second he slipped past the sliding Hughes, before whipping the ball into the top corner with a rasping left-foot shot. The Frenchman has been enjoying his best form for Arsenal in recent weeks, but this was special.
His second may even have been better. Playing deeper in midfield following the substitution of Jack Wilshere, he started the move with a pass to Arshavin and continued his run to take the ball from Robin van Persie before going around John Pantsil and rounding the goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer with a pirouette better than anything to be seen on Strictly Come Dancing. He finished from a narrow angle.
Wenger purred: "[The goals] were a combination of touch, intelligence, special talent and a calmness as well. He needed to be patient to finish on both occasions and he did that well. When he came here his game was based on coming on to the ball. Now he has more variations, makes runs without the ball and is overall more efficient. He was a bit too much attracted to the ball. Now he can use his pace, he has exceptional pace."
Wenger, who spent £12.5m in recruiting Nasri from Marseille in 2008, is relieved to be seeing a return on his investment. "I have always been a strong believer in him," he said. "Many people questioned me when I took him here but he is showing he has exceptional talent. And I think there is more to come from him."
Without Nasri, Arsenal would have struggled to beat Fulham, who recovered after a shaky first 20 minutes to give a good account of themselves. Schwarzer had to make smart saves, twice with his body at close range to deny Arshavin, but overall Arsenal were below their best, hesitant and nervous after home defeats by Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Fulham attempted to put the Gunners' back four under pressure. Their reward came on the half hour, when both Arsenal centre-halves went for a high ball and Sébastien Squillaci butted Laurent Koscielny, who was forced to leave the pitch with concussion. At first, however, Koscielny tried to play on, prompting the referee, Chris Foy, to allow the game to continue. Clint Dempsey found Diomansy Kamara and the Senegal striker curled a low shot past Lukasz Fabianski.
Zoltan Gera forced Fabianski into a couple of good saves – encouraging signs for Fulham's manager, Mark Hughes.
"I thought we edged it but they have individuals who can win the game on their own," Hughes said. "At the end the fans were baying for the final whistle, which showed how we had asked questions of Arsenal and caused them some problems."
Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the match: Nasri
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content