Saturday, 21 May 2011

Arsenal's Premier League Trip To Fulham Previewed.

Arsenal's final game of the season is a short trip to Fulham on Sunday afternoon in the Premier League. It's yet another must win game for Arsenal, but they haven't done particularly well in those games over the last three months. Ever since losing the Carling Cup final to Birmingham in late February Arsenal have imploded, and they are now faced with attempting to beat Fulham, and hoping Man City slip at Bolton if they are to finish third.

Since that defeat to Birmingham Arsenal have played 13 games, and they have only managed to win three of those games. They beat Orient at home in the FA Cup, Blackpool away in the Premier League, and Man Utd at home in the Premier League too. The Orient game was relatively straightforward, and the win at Blackpool was a bit of a tense affair, but for some reason Arsenal decided to turn up at home to United.

The thing that has annoyed me most during that dreadful run is the win over United. I'm not annoyed that Arsenal managed to win, but the players were obviously up for it from the very start, and they played as if the game meant something to them. If they had played with that passion and urgency in their other games I am convinced they would at least be challenging for second place, and not hoping for City to slip up for them to have any chance of finishing third.

The reasons for that performance could go a long way towards explaining why Arsenal have struggled so badly. The Carling Cup final defeat was said to have had a very bad effect on the team, and obviously some of the players have been unable to recover their confidence since that day. I just wish Arsene Wenger could explain to me exactly how that one game was so different, and what he said to the players beforehand to get them up for the game.

Whatever he said or did before that victory over United it worked, and he needs to do the same thing prior to the game against Fulham. The team should be fairly similar to the one which beat United, and there is no reason why they can't put in a similar performance in my opinion. Fulham have a pretty decent home record, but they were beaten 5-2 by Liverpool in their last home game, and Arsenal need to attack them like Liverpool did that night.

Fulham's home record is the same as Arsenal's away record so far this season, with eight wins, six draws, and four defeats to their name. Arsenal have managed to score 37 goals on their travels so far, and no matter what happens they will finish the season with the best away record in the Premier League.  Unfortunately their home form has been their Achieles heel, and until recently their away had been very good.

The chances are after this week's games that Arsenal will be the only team in the Premier League to score more goals on their travels than they have managed at home, and that statistic gives me some hope. Fulham showed a defensive weakness against Liverpool which they hadn't previously shown at home, and Arsenal are the team that can take advantage of that. If they are to do so I think Samir Nasri could be very important, but he is doubtful for the game, and he will be a big loss if he doesn't play.

When Arsenal beat Fulham 2-1 at home in December he almost won the game on his own with two very well taken goals. He is a player who can make things happen, but during Arsenal's poor finish to the season he has been nowhere to be seen most of the time. He has only one year left on his contract, and there's a possibility he will be sold in the summer if he refuses to sign another contract.

Besides Nasri both Gael Clichy and Abu Diaby will be facing fitness tests, and I would like to see both of them involved in the game as well. Arsenal's midfield has become very stagnant in recent games, and there's a possibility that Diaby might just add something to it if he plays. Clichy is still Arsenal's best left back, and they need to have their best players available as often as possible.

I can't find any mention of Johan Djourou on the club site, and I just can't tell if he will be available to play against Fulham or not. I was a little surprised when he didn't play last week, but apparently he had an injury, and there's no word on whether he has recovered or not. I would like to see him play alongside Thomas Vermaelen, and I worry when I see Sebastien Squillaci in the Arsenal team.

Hopefully Djourou will play, and if Clichy plays too I have no doubt that Arsenal will be stronger at the back. The midfield trio will probably be the same, and they need to play with the urgency they showed against United, and not the apathy shown against Stoke and Villa. I have absolutely no doubt that Robin Van Persie will give all he has for the Arsenal cause, as he always does, but both Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin have been truly awful in their last two games.

RVP has had his best season ever for Arsenal in terms of scoring goals, and who knows how many goals he might have got if he had remained injury free. In 18 starts in the Premier League for Arsenal he has managed 17 goals, and he has scored in the last eight away games in the league for Arsenal. That's a Premier League record, and I'm hoping he will add to it against Fulham on Sunday.

When it comes to Arsenal I suppose I'm ever the optimist, as I always predict a win for them no matter who they are playing. I'm opting for a 2-1 win for Arsenal, and I'm hoping City slip up against Bolton to allow Arsenal to finish third. It's probably a long shot, but Arsenal are my team, and I'll only ever predict a win for them.

Arsenal's biggest defensive problem this season has been their inability to deal with set pieces, and Fulham have a few of players who are more than capable of getting on the end of any ball into the Arsenal box. Brede Hangeland has managed six Premier League goals this season, and he scored two against Birmingham last week. Besides Hangeland Arsenal also have to worry about the threat posed by Clint Dempsey who has had a very good season too. If Arsenal can keep those two players quiet from set pieces I think they will have a great chance of winning.

If they don't manage to finish third it means Arsenal will have to play in the final qualifying round for next season's Champions League. If that's the case the players will be back a little earlier from their summer holidays, and that may not be too bad for them. It's possible that an early return would see Arsenal start their season better than some of the other clubs, and if that's the case it could be the silver lining to finishing fourth.

There are reports that Denilson has handed in a transfer request to Arsenal, and the club have agreed to sell him. I wouldn't be surprised if the reports are true, and he's probably better off continuing his career elsewhere. I have never thought he was good enough to play for Arsenal, and I genuinely couldn't see what he brought to the team when he played, but it can't have been easy for him to suffer the abuse he has suffered this season.

It has to be remembered that he did not play in the defeats to Bolton, Stoke and Aston Villa, and he wasn't in the team when leads were thrown away against Liverpool and Tottenham. If he had played in those games I'm sure he would have received another barrage of abuse from some Arsenal fans on Twitter, but the players who have played in midfield have been given a much easier ride than he was. I'm glad those players didn't receive that sort of abuse, but I can understand why Denilso might feel he has been unfairly treated by some Arsenal fans, and it's time to ply his trade elsewhere.

I wish him well wherever he goes, and I hope Arsenal can get a reasonably good transfer fee for him. Hopefully it will be added to the funds which are already available, and the funds from the sale of a couple of other players who are no longer of any real use to the team. I sincerely hope Cesc Fabregas is not one of those players to be sold, and the boss has said he will do all he can to keep him at the club.

He managed to hold on to him last summer despite Barcelona trying every dirty trick in the book to lure Cesc away, but the one thing they didn't do was offer a fair price. With both Man City and AC Milan supposedly showing an interest the chances are Barcelona will be outbid, and I don't think Cesc would join any other team if he is to leave Arsenal. The only conclusion I can come to is that Cesc is going nowhere, and after a long rest this summer he will be back to his very best, and ready to lead Arsenal next season.

That's it for today.

Here's a look at Samir Nasri's brace in the 2-1 victory at home to Fulham in December.

See You Tomorrow.

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