By Phil Gregory
Fulham, Arsenal’s opponents in the late kick off today are managed by the likeable Roy Hodgson and the well-travelled Fulham manager is highly regarded by Wenger, who hailed him as being “the best English manager” in a recent press conference (Mark Hughes take note).
Indeed, the ex-Malmo boss has overseen an enormous change in fortunes at Craven Cottage, leading a team that were previously seen as being bottom six material into Europe.
Much of this success can be attributed to an ability to get the most out of his players – nine times-capped Danny Murphy springs to mind – as well as good use of his knowledge of the Scandinavian market with the transfer of the imperious Hangeland. With Arsenal the proud owners of what is more or less a fully fit first eleven, the match at Craven Cottage promises to be a scorcher with both teams liking to play football.
Arsenal come into this game with a rested first team, after the U12s (careful Phil, I do the jokes – Editor) beat West Brom in the Carling Cup. Wins over Standard Liege and Wigan will have done much to heal the pain of coming away from Manchester with zero points, but Arsenal have got much to do to convince neutrals they have what it takes to win what is surely the most open Premier League for years.
Fulham reserves emerged from the Carling Cup tie away to City with a very credible 2-1 loss so like Arsenal, will have a fully rested first eleven. They go into the game off the back of some indifferent recent form.
At home, where they were so strong last season, Hodgson has seen his team beat Everton but lose to Chelsea. Over their last few Premier League games, they’ve lost to Wolves and Villa away, and beaten Everton at home, placing them fourteenth in the Premier League, between Everton and Wigan.
Many attribute this to a small squad and the pressures of Europe but really, Fulham’s first eleven have barely played in Europe so this can’t be a factor in their mixed start. More likely, it’s just the ebbs and flows of form – Fulham won’t have expected to be where they were last season, and will be more than content with a solid midtable finish this season.
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The usual suspects are amongst the long-term absentees: Fabianksi, Nasri and Djourou are all out for the immediate future, with Walcott lacking match fitness but likely capable of a cameo from the bench.
Arshavin is “expected to be involved”, while Van Persie will have undergone a late fitness test by the time you read this blog. Denilson will still be out with a back complaint, while Almunia’s continued chest infection has got Arsenal conspiracy theorist’s tongues wagging.
Fulham entertain the Gunners without long-term absentees Konchesky and Kallio who are out with knee and Achilles issues respectively.
Arsenal will need to be defensively solid at a tough away ground with an inexperienced keeper between the sticks, so let’s hope Gallas and Vermaelen continue their recent solid displays.
Tomas Rosicky will be looking to take up some of the creative burden in midfield, with Danny Murphy likely to attempt to limit Cesc Fabregas’ ability to influence the game.
With question marks over the fitness of Robin Van Persie at the time of writing, Eduardo Da Silva could well be given an opportunity to play as the central striker and will be hoping to overturn Vermaelen’s position of top Arsenal scorer.
Fulham will, as ever rely on a solid performance from central players. As mentioned, Danny Murphy will no doubt be the bane of our midfielders’ lives, working hard to disrupt our rhythm.
That is not to discredit his ability to play the game though, Murphy is not purely about hard work; certainly a good player to watch. Hangeland will no doubt want to show Arsenal what they could’ve signed amidst all the Vermaelen hype, and given the general trend this season towards set-piece goals, Brede will no doubt hope to nod one in from a corner.
With question marks over Vermaelen’s ability to cope with a pacey striker, Andy Johnson will pose a good test: lets hope the Verminator can help the back five to another clean sheet.
Arsenal expected lineup:
Sagna Vermaelen Gallas Clichy
Bendtner Eduardo Arshavin
Subs: Szcznesy, Gibbs, Ramsey, Walcott, Van Persie, Eboue, Wilshere
A small element of guesswork required here – the goalkeeper’s jersey appears up for grabs after Wenger failed to confirm Mannone would be in goal when asked in a press conference. Even if Mannone is tipped to start, it says a lot that Szcznesy’s performance in the Carling Cup created this debate in Wenger’s mind.
Eduardo is up front in the event of Robin not being risked, though it could just as likely be Eduardo on the left, Arshavin on the right and Bendtner central if Wenger decides to stick with the policy of “the lone forward still functions as a link man” idea.
It’d be great to see Rosicky complete 90 minutes, but there are bench options if needed. I’m unsure Vela will be considered for the bench after a single brief (though impressive) cameo appearance on Tuesday night, though I’d be more than happy to see him included, but at who’s expense?
Fulham are organised, hard to break down and possess some quality players, not all who are household names. That said, Arsenal are simply a better side, who look capable of scoring given the incredible array of creative talent at our disposal. I’d expect us to concede, so perhaps 1-2 or 1-3 to us.
I’d love another clean sheet, but Fulham have been strong at home in recent years and we’ve got a 3rd or 4th choice goalkeeper between the sticks. Three points please, let’s keep up the momentum.
Comments, as ever, below. Until next time!