Saturday, 18 January 2014

Arsenal v Fulham Preview

Arsenal are still sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League despite the best attempts of City and Chelsea to displace them. Last weekend was a very nervous one for Arsenal with the chasing pack all playing before them and winning, but Arsenal went to Villa on Monday night and got the three points they needed. The second half was far from the stuff legends are made of, but they managed their eighth win so far in their 11 away games.

They play at home this weekend and with the game on Saturday afternoon they get a chance to put some pressure on Chelsea who play at home to United on Sunday afternoon. United have been better on their travels this season and need something from the game to continue their pursuit of a top four place with the title already looking lost to them. Arsenal need to go out on Saturday against Fulham and put the points on the board to put Chelsea five points behind them and see how they react to the pressure of playing catch up.

City play at the same time as Arsenal on Saturday and it has to be assumed that they will win comfortably at home to struggling Cardiff. City's home form had been magnificent this season and they have won all 10 of their home league games. I wouldn't be surprised to see them score 100 goals at home this season in all competitions.

Arsenal haven't been too bad at home either and their only home defeat came on the opening day of the season. Since then they have won seven and drawn two home games and only conceded three goals in the process. They haven't exactly banged the goals in at home though and have scored more goals away from home.

They play a Fulham team who have the worst defensive record in the league and that hasn't changed since Rene Muelensteen took over the reins from Martin Jol. He has managed to move them out of the bottom three with a couple of important wins over other teams at the wrong end of the table, but he hasn't managed to tighten up their defence at all. Arsenal are probably going to get plenty of goalscoring chances and they need to take as many of them as possible.

I'm not for one second suggesting Arsenal will thrash Fulham, but they are overdue to thrash somebody and surely the opportunity has to be there against the worst defence in the league. Of course Fulham came to Arsenal last season and came away with a 3-3 draw after going 2-0 down early on and the bitterest blow for Arsenal was the last minute penalty miss by Mikel Arteta. If Arsenal get ahead in this game they cannot afford to let Fulham back in.

The Arsenal team has changed an awful lot since even though the personell are more or less the same. Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini joined in the summer, but the mental attitude seemed to change before either of them signed. Maybe it goes back to that night in Munich when they won 2-0 away to Bayern, but one thing is for sure - Arsenal have found the ability to see games through and win when they're not at their best. 

In previous seasons Arsenal have dropped too many points against teams they should not drop them to, but that changed in the last 10 games of last season and has continued into this season. Of course no team is perfect and besides the opening day defeat by to Villa they also drew away to West Brom. For me that's only five points dropped to teams outside the top seven and that has to be better than any of the other title chasing clubs.

That record makes me very confident Arsenal will beat Fulham and it has to install confidence in the players too. It hasn't always been easy with the last home game against Cardiff being a case to prove that. When the goals came in that game they were very late, but the players kept trying and eventually got their reward. 

Arsenal have their injury concerns at the moment, but they still have a strong enough side available to do the business against Fulham. The team probably won't be too different to the one which beat Villa on Monday night with a few obvious exceptions. Nacho Monreal will miss out after picking up an injury in that game, but at least Kieran Gibbs is back to take his place at left back. Hopefully he can put his injury problems behind him as he's the only fit left back available now.

Tomas Rosicky came on as a sub against Villa but the chances are he won't play a part after Gabriel Agbonlahor spread his nose across his face. Rosicky had to have surgery to sort his nose out and I doubt if he will play any part against Fulham. Hopefully he will be back for the FA Cup game at home to Coventry next Friday night. I'm pretty sure the referee had a good view of what Agbonlahor did to Rosicky and that means the FA have no interest in reviewing the incident. It seems you can lead with your forearm and break an opponent's nose as long as the referee doesn't see anything wrong with the challenge. In this day and age there are few infallible people in the world but it's good to know referees are just that in the eyes of the FA.

There will be no return for Aaron Ramsey, Arteta or Thomas Vermaelen either who will all miss the Coventry game too, but could be ready for Southampton a few days later. The decision to play Arsenal's FA Cup game with Coventry on Friday is a ridiculous one which is done to suit TV and will make life very hard for the Coventry fans in particular. It works out well for Arsenal though with an extra days rest before a tricky trip to Southampton the following Tuesday. 

As I said the team should be almost the same as the one which beat Villa and the chances are Lukas Podolski will be warming the bench again. He didn't look too happy when he didn't get on in that game and it's difficult to know why he isn't getting any game time at all at the moment. Maybe he will get a run out and with a point to prove he might just put on a performance to give the boss a reminder of what he's missing. He did get two of Arsenal's three goals when they won away to Fulham back in August and he offers more of a goal scoring threat in the wide left role than any other player.

A win keeps Arsenal on top of the table yet again and the longer they stay there the more likely they are to continue that challenge. I have no doubt they are a better team than Fulham and I think they will win by a few goals at least. I'll be happy as long as they win but I'd love to see a performance to put it up to the chasing pack.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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