Saturday, 24 August 2013

Arsenal's Premier League Trip To Fulham Previewed

The games are coming thick and fast for Arsenal at the moment and they're all must win games too. After losing their first league game at home to Villa last week Arsenal bounced back to win the first leg of their Champions League qualifier in Turkey on Wednesday night. It was a welcome boost for the team after the troubles of the Villa game and more of the same is needed today.

Fulham got a good win away to Sunderland last week and have added both Scott Parker and Darren Bent to the squad which finished in mid table last season. They are a tough team to beat at home and have given Arsenal a rough ride on quite a few occasions at Craven Cottage. They will fancy their chances of getting a result from an Arsenal team that finished their game in Turkey just over 60 hours before today's game. 

Normally Arsenal would be able to rotate their squad with three games in eight days at the start of the season, but a combination of injuries and no summer signings have left Arsene Wenger with few options. Of course his lack of signings are down to him more than anyone else and he now has only nine days left to bring in the players that are needed. How the club have got so close to the end of the transfer window without any significant signings is simply baffling to me.

Excuses have been made and reasons offered but the fact of the matter is Arsenal have got their transfer policy incredibly wrong this summer. If they sign Mathieu Flamini this week for free it will be bordering on the unbelievable. The club have plenty to spend yet somehow the only arrivals are free transfers. Are there no other clubs after the players Arsenal are signing for free such as the ones who seem to beat them to every target that actually costs money.

Don't get me wrong Flamini isn't a bad player and would be an adequate support player to cover Mikael Arteta when he is injured or needs to be rested. He's available for free after seeing out his contract at AC Milan like he has done with every other contract throughout his career. He left Arsenal in 2008 to join Milan just when he looked to have found an important role in an Arsenal team that looked like it might be going somewhere. If he had stayed his career might have turned out better but those things are impossible to tell.

Flamimi isn't an Arsenal player yet though and he won't be available to play against Fulham today. The Arsenal team is going to have to be very similar to the ones that played in their other two games with the exception of players who have picked up injuries or suspensions. They will have to plan without Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for those very reasons with Koscielny being sorely missed in particular.

After the failure to buy a much needed central defender so far this summer Arsenal are faced with having to play Bacary Sagna in that position. He's good enough to cope with what is asked of him but I can't imagine he will have the same understanding Koscielny has with Per Mertesacker. It means Carl Jenkinson will come in at right back too and it's very much a makeshift defence.

The only other question in defence will be whether Kirean Gibbs plays or Nacho Monreal makes his first start of the season. After arriving back to pre season late due to international duty and picking an injury I don't imagine Monreal will be risked. There will be plenty of games for both players to play as the season progresses and there's no point in pushing Monreal too hard at this stage. 

In midfield Aaron Ramsey has his place nailed down after a very good start to the season and I would expect Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla to accompany him. Tomas Rosicky played very well against Villa and did reasonably well in midweek, but it would be tempting fate to play him today. He has had so many injury problems in the last few years that it would be a very bad idea to ask him to push his body too far.

If Cazorla drops back to a midfield role then I would expect to see Lukas Podolski make his first start of the season. It's hard to understand why he hasn't had more than a couple of minutes in each of the games so far after playing such a big part in pre season. His lack of game time has led to rumours of a loan move but I would be very surprised if Arsenal were to let him go considering their shortage of players at the moment. 

Both Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud will definitely be playing up front and they could be the players to make the difference in front of goal for Arsenal. Giroud has two goals in his first two games and Walcott made two of the goals on Wednesday night. If the other players can make chances for those two players they will hopefully be able to take them.

The Arsenal bench will be an interesting one with yet another mixture of the few fit first team squad players who are fit and not starting and some youngsters. If Yaya Sanogo, Serge Gnabry and Emmanuel Frimpong are the young players on the bench I very much doubt that they will be used. That means Arsenal really only have three options available to them if they want to change things.

What will happen if Arsenal get an injury to a central defender is anyone's guess with all of their options exhausted. Ramsey filled in last Saturday when Koscielny was sent off, but it's not a role he's accustomed to and that showed. The lack of genuine depth is scary for Arsenal fans at the moment and I'm worried every time I see an Arsenal player go down.

Fulham won't make things as easy for Arsenal as Fenerbache did, but Arsenal still have a strong enough starting 11 to go and get a win. It's a win they need after losing to Villa as they cannot afford to be six points off the pace so early on. If they can get the three points and then finish off Fenerbache on Tuesday things will look a lot better ahead of the game against Spurs next week.

The Fulham pitch is tight and Arsenal won't have as much room to play their football as they might like to, but Fulham will at least try to play some good football too. I can't see them parking the bus as they will think they have a good chance of winning and that might be enough to give Arsenal the edge they need. Arsenal had the best defensive record away from home in the league last season, but that defence will be quite a bit different today.

If they can overcome the problems of having a makeshift defence and take the game to Fulham I think Arsenal will get the result they want and need. I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal and I think Giroud will get on the scoresheet for the third game in a row. Anything other than a win will be a real blow and will lead to increased criticism of the manager and the board too.

The abuse isn't being channeled towards the team though as so many of the players stated their desire for the club to add some genuine quality throughout the summer. Hopefully they will get their wish along with us fans and Arsenal can somehow muddle through until then. As I said their team is strong enough and their only real issue is the lack of depth. If that issue can be properly addressed they could still manage to put in a serious challenge this season.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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