LONDON (AP) — Willian helped to set up all three goals on his debut to lead Arsenal to a 3-0 victory over promoted Fulham on Saturday in the opening match of the pandemic-delayed Premier League season at an empty Craven Cottage.
The offseason recruit from Chelsea took just eight minutes to make an impact with a close-range shot parried by goalkeeper Marek Rodak and Alexandre Lacazette tapped in the opener.
It was a corner from Willian four minutes into the second half that allowed Gabriel to claim a debut goal. The defensive signing from Lille was left unmarked to head into the net.
And Willian's pass fed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who faced little resistance as he cut in before curling into the top corner.
It was a chastening start to life back in the top flight for Fulham. Just like Craven Cottage — where the stand by the River Thames still is being constructed — manager Scott Parker has a lot of work ahead if the west London club is to survive in the world's richest league.
The Premier League season started a month later than scheduled due to the pandemic that is still preventing fans from attending games.
Arsenal has already played once this season without fans — after winning the Community Shield at Wembley Stadium.
Picking up trophies wasn't the problem in August, with the month starting in FA Cup glory. The challenge is returning to the Premier League's top four to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since the 2016-17 season after finishing eighth last season.
By ROB HARRIS AP Global Soccer Writer