Arsenal win should not diminish importance of transfer window business for Fulham


Amid the haze of the foggy period between Christmas and New Year, the excitement of festive football can often ease worries and cause concerns to be overlooked.

That is certainly how it felt on the final day of 2023 at Craven Cottage as Fulham came from behind to beat title-chasing Arsenal and end a run of three consecutive league games without a win.

Marco Silva and Mikel Arteta admitted afterwards that the Whites had deserved the victory, with goals from Raul Jimenez and Bobby De Cordova-Reid a justified reward for a well-co-ordinated game plan and showing the confidence to stick with it after Bukayo Saka had opened the scoring early on.

Beating Arsenal was a landmark for Fulham. They had not previously overcome the Gunners since 2012, and since their latest return to the Premier League the only member of the traditional ‘Big Six’ they have enjoyed success against was an out-of-sorts Chelsea almost a year ago.

A stoppage-time point was snatched at the Emirates earlier this term but late defeats to both Manchester United and Liverpool left the Cottage faithful desperate for the sort of scalp that typified their best years in the Premier League under Roy Hodgson.

Beating Arsenal in such convincing fashion, and moving closer to the European places than the relegation zone in the process, will have supporters dreaming of those days returning once more as the new year begins in earnest.

Yet Fulham’s struggles in the three league games beforehand should not be ignored, particularly with the January transfer window now open.

Perhaps defeats at the hands of cash-rich Newcastle and in-form Bournemouth should be expected, and having to play with 10 men at St James’ Park for more than an hour following a red card for Jimenez makes it a difficult game to properly assess.

Nobody has epitomised Fulham’s fluctuating fortunes quite like Jimenez. The Mexican’s early winter goal rush established him as Silva’s undoubted first choice upfront, and his 32-game wait for a Premier League goal now seems a very long time ago.

Rodrigo Muniz and Carlos Vinicius have both been linked with moves away since, and their lack of impact during Jimenez’s suspension is a clear indication that Fulham still require attacking reinforcements.

With Willian also missing due to a hamstring injury, Fulham failed to score against Newcastle, Burnley or Bournemouth.

Against a Burnley side that had previously only won this season against teams they were promoted with from the Championship last term, it was a case of not taking chances rather than the inability to create them which dogged the early months of the campaign.

Muniz and Vinicius had four shots at goal between them without ever looking like scoring.

Losing to Bournemouth was an altogether more harrowing experience. Joao Palhinha was walked past for the Cherries’ first goal and clumsy when conceding the penalty for the second.

An out of character afternoon was summed up by Bernd Leno getting involved in an altercation with a ball boy before Bournemouth scored their third late on.

This created pressure on both the Arsenal game and off-field matters in January.

Fulham found themselves six points clear of the bottom three – the same position they had been in before their upturn in fortunes at the end of November – and were facing a fourth game in a row without scoring for the first time since December 1999.

The response under pressure from Silva and his players was emphatic but the situation they found themselves in should be what guides their approach to the window rather than allowing one excellent result to make it seem that all is well.

Fulham have not won a league game this season without Willian starting. His quality is obvious and his influence on Fulham’s attack down the left flank is undeniable, but he is 35 and out of contract in the summer.

Jimenez’s return to form has been surprising and heart-warming. Although the 32-year-old has only been absent through suspension so far this term, he is clearly also at an age where he requires support in the form of an eventual successor.

Palhinha’s departure seems inevitable at some point given how consistently excellent he has been in the Premier League.

Replacing him like-for-like will be near enough impossible, yet the ambition that is shown in trying to do so will say a lot about whether the club can offer Silva the tools to continue building on the success of the past two-and-a-half years.

A first-ever EFL Cup semi-final in the coming weeks is yet another sign of the fine job Silva is doing.

Rather than expecting him to make the most of what he’s got, vice-chairman Tony Khan and chief executive Alistair Mackintosh should consider just how good things could get if January goes well.

PICTURE: PA/Keith Gillard

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