By Phil Gregory
Following on from the midweek Carling Cup action, Fulham travel to the Emirates . It’s been a disappointing campaign for Fulham: things can never said to be going well when you are near the foot of the table. They’ve consistently been picking points up over the course of the season but mainly via draws with only two wins since we started out in August. You cannot draw your way to Premier League safety, and Fulham fans will surely be pessimistic of their chances of picking up three points despite a couple of shock results at the Emirates this season.
The team has a broadly clean bill of health, with Almunia being the only new absentee with a “minor setback”. Squillaci and Nasri, two doubts from midweek are passed fit and are expected to start. The Diaby-Vermaelen mystery continues.
It was interesting to note Wenger’s recent comments that he can play both Chamakh and Van Persie together, with the latter playing in the hole behind the former. That sounds like a traditional forward partnership in a 4-4-2 formation, with one striker exploiting the space between the opponent’s lines and the other creating the space by playing almost on the shoulder of the centre backs.
I don’t think we’ll see a return to 4-4-2, our wide players like Arshavin, Theo and Nasri thrive in that inside forward role and would be less effective playing like traditional wingers. Putting Van Persie in the hole would certainly cause a change in the team’s shape however: he’d be occupying the space that Cesc traditionally attacks, so I’m unsure how exactly it would work out.
Van Persie off Chamakh would result in us playing a more 4-2-3-1 formation, with Van Persie as the central attacking playmaker, flanked by two inside forwards. Such a formation however would need us to anchor the middle of the park better, so we’d likely see Song and another deeper playmaker. Jack can certainly fill the role, but I feel Cesc would be wasted so far from goal. It’ll certainly be interesting to see what Wenger does.
Back to the game! Line-up:
Sagna Squillaci Koscielny Clichy
Nasri Chamakh Arshavin
Fabianski goes back between the sticks with the news that Wenger isn’t looking at keepers in January ringing in his ears. The defence is as you’d expect with the return of Squillaci from a midweek absence.
Koscielny is a man who has come in for a bit of a criticism in recent weeks, and he was always going to be a target for the AAA. He doesn’t fit the stereotype of an English centre back, the big brute defender who’s strong in the air. For a club like Arsenal, that sort of centre back doesn’t really “work” for want of a better word, as our defenders play a high line and have a lot of time with the ball at their feet. Of course, there are situations where a robust centre back would come in handy, but much more often we find ourselves struggling to break down sides and our centre backs are playing the ball out on the half way line. Koscielny’s intelligence both with and without the ball is a greatly underrated trait by a lot of fans
Back to the line-up. Song and Wilshere play deeper Rosicky is expected to continue in lieu of Cesc. Nasri and Arshavin will play on the flanks, with Wenger having to decide between Chamakh and Van Persie for the centre forward berth. I went for for Chamakh after Robin played plenty of minutes in midweek and they won’t want him to do too much too soon. Expect an appearance of the bench if we need ideas in the final third
Hughes hasn’t got Fulham playing too differently to his predecessor, which isn’t surprising given the success Hodgson had with them. A lot of draws on the road isn’t ideal from their point of view, but Hughes will point to a traditionally poor away record, so the newly-found resilience may be somewhat of an improvement.
It’s a tricky tie to call. I’m always cautious with likely “park the bus” games when we are without Cesc, as not even an on-song Nasri offers the same creativity as the Spaniard. At home, against a struggling side we shouldn’t have too many issues but we need to be wary of over-confidence this season. Indeed you could argue positions don’t really count for very much at all, as Fulham are only really a handful of points away from a “secure” top half berth.
We shouldn’t struggle, and with the United game postponed, it’d be great to put a little pressure on them prior to our meeting in a couple of weeks time. 3-0 to the Arsenal for me.
Billy the Dog’s bench.
Vela, Van Persie, Walcott, Denilson, Djourou, Eboue, Gibbs, Bendtner, Szczesny, Emmanuel-Thomas.
(Note to Mr Wenger: need to get more seats in that area).
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