Leandro Trossard improved credentials with brilliant performance as Arsenal’s catalyst for the title

Leandro Trossard may prove to be the most shrewdly opportunistic among the Arsenal signings recently.

A hat-trick of assists for the Belgium forward against Fulham – the first time in Premier League history an away player has achieved that in a first-half – helped turn a potentially fraught London derby into a stroll by the River Thames.

With it, Arsenal re-established their five-point lead over Manchester City with the kind of imperious performance which once more suggests they are not just capable of going the distance but also of delivering their first title in two decades.

In fact, given City have an FA Cup quarter-final next weekend, Arsenal can go into April – after the international break – a formidable eight points clear if they beat struggling Crystal Palace away on Sunday.

They have now won five league games in a row since the defeat to City which represents an impressive response to that potentially derailing set-back when it appeared the momentum for the title had swung away from them. There are 11 league games to go or, as Trossard put it, “11 finals”.

He created goals for Gabriel Magalhaes, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard and it could have been a fourth in that opening 45 minutes had Granit Xhaka not taken a heavy touch when he should have shot after a sharp exchange of passes left him with only Bernd Leno to beat.

With Gabriel Jesus finally back, after his 120-day lay-off from a knee injury, and joyfully returning as a second-half substitute, Mikel Arteta’s attacking options are about to increase at a crucial period. There is fresh weaponry.

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Arteta certainly deserves praise for how he has managed without the Brazilian No9 as the Arsenal manager has not only rotated his forwards – and was able to take off Bukayo Saka, Martinelli and Trossard here – but added a different dimension.

Not so long ago it looked like the workload on Saka and Martinelli might buckle them. No more. Arsenal also have Eddie Nketiah, out with a minor injury, and Reiss Nelson, who replaced Saka.

It seemed when Trossard signed he was going to challenge Martinelli for a position wide on the left of the attack but he was used most effectively as false centre-forward, interchanging with the Brazilian and providing greater fluidity.

There were question marks over Trossard after his falling out with Brighton head coach Roberto De Zerbi which, he claimed, left him feeling “humiliated” and which led to him being sold.

But there was never any doubt about his ability or effectiveness. The 28-year-old has a hat-trick at Anfield to his credit this season. And now another unique hat-trick as a provider.

“When we talk about composure and finding the right pass and looking for the right colour in the box it can be very blurry but he is the opposite,” Arteta, who celebrated his 100th win in just his 167th game in charge, said in reference to Trossard and his clarity.

There was the highest praise – given who it came from and given his ability to pick a pass – from Odegaard. “He has brought some amazing things to the team. I love playing with him. He’s good to find the right pass,” the captain said.

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Trossard’s statistics said it all: 54 touches, 28 of his 36 passes (mainly in tight, forward areas) completed and four chances created. Little wonder Arteta sought him out at the final whistle for a hug and it is that adaptability – and durability – which might just help see Arsenal over the line.

And to think Trossard was an injury doubt, having limped off early during last weekend’s dramatic win over Bournemouth. He was not expected to play here but such is his determination to do so that he declared himself fit and Arsenal felt the benefit.

The movement is the key. It was from the left that Trossard made his contribution for all three goals; moving outside cleverly as Martinelli switches in. For the first, it was from a corner with Gabriel able to rise relatively unchallenged by Tosin Adarabioyo to head home before the pick of the goals arrived.

It was the kind straight from the coaching manual – but not for Fulham who were later accused of being “soft” by their frustrated head coach Marco Silva.

“Clear Arsenal deserved the three points,” he said. “In the first-half we were on the pitch but in some moments looked like we weren’t.”

One of those moments was for the second goal as every Arsenal outfield player was involved with the ball transferred to Trossard who centred with the hapless Antonee Robinson allowing Martinelli to head in. On half-time Odegaard collected Trossard’s cross, cut inside and finished.

Fulham were better after that, Silva had clearly ripped into them, but they have lost all four games without the suspended midfielder Joao Palhinha. Arsenal are not so reliant on Trossard but on this evidence what a smart addition he has been. It is an unexpected deal that could make the difference.

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