The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Fulham
A routine win for the unstoppable Gunners.
When do the nerves kick in for Arsenal? Arsene Wenger’s men are still top, when at this stage last season they were sixth, and in 2011/12 fifth (10 points behind prematurely crowing cockerels Spurs). The longer the leaders stretch their good run, either stumbling over hurdles or leaping majestically over them, the more they’ll be considered genuine title contenders instead of seat-warmers for either Manchester City or Chelsea.
- Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Spurs (FAC)
- Arsenal 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- West Ham 1-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Fulham 3-0 Norwich (FAC)
- Fulham 1-4 S'land (Prem)
- Norwich 1-1 Fulham (FAC)
- Fulham 2-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Hull 6-0 Fulham (Prem)
Doing so unexpectedly well can either fill players with confidence or paralyse them with fear of failure. But Per Mertesacker, one half of the most consistent Arsenal centre-back pairing in nearly a decade, says pressure isn’t a problem.
In seeing off Aston Villa on Monday night, the Big Fiery German said: "There was pressure, the team could feel that, and everyone was expecting that we may drop points... it was very important to let the other teams see that Arsenal are alive and that we can respond."
Less alive right now are Fulham (seamless). Four wins from 10 games in all competitions under Rene Meulensteen is a decent return, but they’ve also put in some woeful performances, shipping six goals to Hull and four at home to Sunderland.
A problem Meulensteen faces is getting the best out of his flair players. Dimitar Berbatov looked unbothered in the 4-1 defeat to the Black Cats, while Adel Taarabt is yet to register a goal in 12 appearances. The manager has already given up on lithe-but-loafing Bryan Ruiz, who's been sent on loan to PSV.
What Fulham need against Arsenal is someone like Berbatov getting out of bed on the right side and playing at his insouciant best. Then the visitors might have a chance of an unlikely result – if their defence can hold out at the other end, of course.
The hosts are without Thomas Vermaelen (knee), Tomas Rosicky (broken nose) and Nicklas Bendtner (hopefully having a haircut). Theo Walcott is also out, of course, still recuperating from a coin thrown into his kneecap (at least that’s what Twitter tells us). Aaron Ramsey could be rushed back but it looks unlikely at this stage; Nacho Monreal is 50-50. Abou Diaby and Yaya Sanogo continue to feature on the sides of milk cartons.
Fulham have a much cleaner bill of health with no injury concerns over any first-teamers. Just other concerns.
Player to watch: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Jack Wilshere plays best when he’s feeling confident, and coming up against Fulham after putting in a number of good performances himself, he should be floating on air.
The midfielder’s assurance of late is evident in the number of take-ons he attempts: 10 against Newcastle, 12 against Cardiff and 8 against Aston Villa. That he only succeeds with around half is almost irrelevant: when he does give the ball away it’s usually in the opposition third and every time he does beat a man in that area he’s leading a dangerous attack.
Fulham have two good tacklers in Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell, but the pair of thirtysomethings aren’t always the most mobile. It’s vital for the visitors that between them they stop Wilshere ghosting into positions where he can either create chances or finish them off.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- F'ham 1-3 Arsenal (Prem, Aug 13)
- F'ham 0-1 Arsenal (Prem, Apr 13)
- Arsenal 3-3 F'ham (Prem, Nov 12)
- F'ham 2-1 Arsenal (Prem, Jan 12)
- Arsenal 1-1 F'ham (Prem, Nov 11)
Meulensteen is in hot – well, tepid – water after publicly stating that West Ham midfielder Ravel Morrison wants to join Fulham. Ignoring the questionable concept that anybody wants to join Fulham, he said: "I think he does want to come" after West Ham turned down a £4 million bid and the Hammers have reported him for being an amateur Harry Redknapp impersonator.
Wenger is expected to sign a new contract in the coming days and weeks. How quickly things change.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Fulham have never won away at Arsenal in any competition, losing 22 of the 27 visits to the Gunners. They have, however, drawn the last two.
- Darren Bent has scored 8 goals in his last 10 appearances in all competitions against Arsenal, including 5 in the last 4.
- Arsenal have won their last 8 home matches against bottom-six teams
- This match will be Arsenal’s 200th Premier League London derby (W103 D55 L41 F338 A190).
- Arsenal have kept 7 clean sheets in their last 8 games in all competitions at the Emirates Stadium.
- Fulham have allowed 133 shots on target this season, more than any other club in the Premier League.
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3-0, an early Arsenal goal setting the tone.