The Emirates Stadium, North London
December 4, 2010, 08:30 PM IST (15:00 B.S.T)
After yet another away win for the Gunners, they will now look to get the monkey off their back in their home fixture against fellow London club Fulham. It has been a strange season for the home side, which has won more games on the road than on the plush turf of the Emirates Stadium, and they need to turn the tide around. Fortunately for them, the Cottagers have had a dismal away record this season, having won none and drawn five of their seven games outside of Craven Cottage. However, Fulham have the tendency to threaten the big clubs when least expected, and they nearly won against Arsenal at their home turf last season if not for Vito Mannone’s heroics.
Arsenal were reeling from two consecutive defeats before their trip to Villa Park, and they doused the flames of disaster with a rather unconvincing win over a weak Villa side. They nearly replicated their second half feat against Spurs in this game, only for timely goals by Chamakh and Wilshere to snuff out any hopes of a Villa comeback. There is no doubt that the side has enough quality in it, but their tendency to let down their guard towards the end of the game is a cause for worry for Wenger. The lads need to be drilled on the importance of staying focused throughout the entire 90 minutes and play as if their lives depended on it; any sign of lackadaisical attitude exhibited by them will be exposed by opposition players and will hurt the team. This game gives the so called Arsenal youngsters the chance to prove their mental strength, and also set about making Emirates a fortress once again, for another poor performance in front of the home fans would be nothing short of demoralizing.
Fulham are now a shadow of the side which went all the way to the Europa finals last season, after Hodgson’s departure to Liverpool. Mark Hughes finds himself in a sticky situation, with his side hovering above the relegation zone at 17th position. The former Man City manager has been unable to instill confidence in the Fulham side despite the presence of players like Dempsey, Hangeland, Gera and Murphy; they have won only two games and drawn nine times this season, which is hardly encouraging. They were humbled by Manchester City 1-4 at Craven Cottage, in between draws to Newcastle and Birmingham City. The road ahead doesn’t look good either, with Arsenal, Sunderland and Liverpool awaiting them. Unless Fulham conjure up something to resurrect their form, they could find the going tougher when 2011 starts.
The last encounter between the two teams at the Emirates heralded the arrival of Vito Mannone on the big stage, as his countless saves against a determined Fulham attack ensured that Arsenal escaped with a 1-0 scoreline. However, the Italian goalie has since then slipped into oblivion, and Fulham will find a rejuvenated Fabianski between the sticks this time around. Mark Schwarzer, who was touted to join the Gunners in the summer, will remain with his current club, having signed a new contract. The London Derby is bound to be an open game, and Arsenal will look to grab all three points and keep up with Manchester United in the table, given that the Red Devils are likely to go on top again after their game against Blackpool this weekend.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Cesc Fabregas suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury in the Braga game and will probably return in two weeks, while Diaby, Almunia and Vermaelen continue to remain on the sidelines, the Belgian donning a protective boot as a precaution. Nasri had a minor knee problem in the Carling cup game, but Wenger expects him to start against Fulham. Van Persie showed glimpses of his class in the Carling Cup game against Wigan, while Nicklas Bendtner chipped in with a goal. However, Chamakh’s performances make him almost untouchable along with Nasri, and Wenger will either have to field the Dutchman as a substitute or play him in Nasri’s place and move the in-form Frenchman to central midfield in place of Fabregas. Tomas Rosicky is also in contention for a first team start, having not featured in the Carling Cup match. Such is the abundance of quality in this squad that Wenger has insisted that there would be no signings in January, unless there is an injury crisis.
Fulham’s strategy has been to play through the middle of the park, relying on Etuhu and Murphy to boss the midfield and pass the ball to the wide men Gera and Davies, who would attempt to play it into the box for Kamara or Dempsey to pounce upon. Squillaci and Koscielny will have to deal with the forward pair and also counter Hangeland’s threat during set pieces; the Norwegian had scored the equalizer against Manchester United this season. Song and Wilshere have to scupper all passing attempts from Murphy , while Sagna will need to handle Zoltan Gera. The best ploy for Arsenal would be to retain the ball and boss the midfield, with Nasri and Arshavin capable of creating chances from anywhere. However, they need to be alert when defending set pieces, and Chamakh will have a crucial role in the entire game at both ends.
Probable Starting XI: Fabianski, Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Wilshere, Rosicky, Nasri, Arshavin, Chamakh
Mark Hughes’ side has been hit by injuries to key players, especially Andrew Johnson and Bobby Zamora; Senderos (calf), Dembele(ankle) and Salcido(knee ligament) are the latest casualties for the Craven Cottage side. With Fulham winless since October, the situation couldn’t have been worse for them. Clint Dempsey and Zoltan Gera will have to step up their game, and the entire team has to put up a worthy fight and aim for a draw at best. However, given Arsenal’s disastrous home record, it is not impossible for them to grab a win, so long as they keep their heads down and attempt to hit on counters and from set pieces, where the Gunners clearly fall short when it comes to defending in these scenarios.
With Salcido out due to injury, Pantsil and Baird will have the tough task of marking Nasri and Arshavin on the flanks; both Arsenal players have contributed immensely to Arsenal’s goals and will continue to remain the danger men. Chamakh will confront Hangeland and Aaron Hughes, both of whom are equally adept at handling long balls, and therefore will look to draw them out while feeding the ball to the attacking midfielders. Etuhu and Murphy will have to contend with the trio of Song, Wilshere and Rosicky, all of whom are capable of switching roles with ease; this will require the wingers to track back and help the midfield duo out. The best bet for Fulham would be to crowd out the midfield and feed the ball to Dempsey and Kamara, both of whom have enough pace to trouble the Arsenal defense. The Spurs game showed that playing two strikers made the defense busier, so Hughes would go for a 4-4-2 in this game.
Probable Starting XI: Schwarzer, Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Pantsil, Murphy, Etuhu, Gera, Davies, Kamara, Dempsey
1. Arsenal have won 7 and drawn 2 of their last 9 home games against Fulham.
2. Fulham have not won in their last 25 away League games.
3. 40% of Fulham’s goals have come from headers.
4. This season, Nasri has scored six goals and provided one assist, while Arshavin has three goals and seven assists to his name.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal)
The Moroccan has been a revelation for Arsenal, and his performances have commanded him a starting place despite the return of Robin Van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner. His timely goals and workhorse-like performances have been instrumental in taking Arsenal to the third spot in the league table. Although he will be up against the likes of Brede Hangeland, who can negate his aerial threat, he possesses the ability to draw in defenders and provide assists in the box.
Arsenal 2-0 Fulham
Arsenal will look to avoid the mistakes made in the Spurs game and set about making the Emirates a stronghold again. Song and Wilshere will play a pivotal role in curbing Fulham’s attacks, while Fabianski might have to do a ‘Mannone’ during set pieces. Fulham’s poor away form will haunt them again, and they will not be able to stop the Gunners from scoring.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST