Craven Cottage, Fulham
May 22, 2011, 8:30 P.M. IST
The unthinkable has happened. Arsenal endured one of their worst ever runs in the league, mustering only a meager nine points in their last nine games, allowing moneybags Manchester City to climb to third spot at their expense. While the blue side of Manchester have been growing in strength with each passing game, it has been a trough for the London club so far. With the former paying a visit to Bolton and Arsenal facing their London rivals at Craven Cottage, the possibilities of Wenger’s side reclaiming third position, which guarantees automatic qualification to the Champions league finals, are exceedingly slim. However, more than just the quest for third place, the Gunners desperately need a victory to regain some of the pride they were forced to swallow in their last two games, and end the season on a bittersweet note.
Under Mark Hughes, Fulham have done well enough to secure the eight spot in the league standings. Damien Duff has returned to form for the Cottagers, and Bobby Zamora, who has tormented Arsenal in the past outings, will be licking his lips in anticipation at the prospect of terrorizing the Gunners’ leaky defense. Fulham have a decent home record, and have won convincingly against some of the mid-table teams; Dempsey has been their most influential player, and has received able support from Dembele and Hangeland, who has proved to be a huge threat in corners as evinced by his brace against Brum last weekend.
The last season ended with Fulham traveling to the Emirates and returning without any points in a 4-0 thrashing. This season, the home side have a chance to turn the tables on a battered and bruised Arsenal side, whose sole saving grace has been the prolific goal-scoring feats of Van Persie. Mark Hughes will want his side to show their mettle and heap further misery on the visitors.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Cottagers will miss the services of Damien Duff, who has undergone surgery for his Achilles problem. Diomansy Kamara missed out on the rest of the season with a back injury. Other than these casualties, Mark Hughes has a full squad at his disposal, and will field his best XI to take advantage of Arsenal’s vulnerability at the back.
Van Persie has scored 17 league goals despite playing for half of the season, and there is no doubt that the Dutchman will be looking to add to his tally and try to give his team some breathing space from their recent results. Hangeland and Hughes will try to keep the striker in check, while at the same time utilizing their physical build to score goals from set pieces. Walcott and Arshavin have been below par in recent games, but the fullbacks just need to ensure they are not caught unaware by the wingers’ pace and skills. Murphy and Davies have the task of bossing the midfield against the likes of Wilshere and Song, while Dempsey and Greening will look to exploit the spaces left behind by Arsenal’s fullbacks and support the forward duo of Zamora and Johnson. Their best chances of finding the back of the net are from corner kicks and in counter attacks, a tactic which has benefitted other teams earlier this season. It will be interesting to see if Philippe Senderos will be given a chance to face his old club.
Probable Starting XI: Schwarzer, Baird, Hangeland, Senderos, Salcido, Dempsey, Sidwell, Murphy, Greening, Johnson, Zamora
The Gunners have been without the trio of Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy, and their recent string of results could be a consequence of the absence of these first team players. While Wenger has confirmed that the season is over for the Spaniard, the other two could face late fitness tests. There are speculations over the availability of these players for next season, with the French youngsters stalling their contract extensions and Fabregas being touted for a return to his home club, Barcelona. Koscielny misses the trip to Craven Cottage, but Djourou could recover in time for the game to partner the fit-again Thomas Vermaelen in the centre of the defense. Diaby continues to be on the sidelines, with Frimpong and Fabianski giving him company.
Fulham play to a game plan, utilizing the pace of their strikers and wingers and making their chances in setpieces count. The left side is Arsenal’s chink in their armour, with Gibbs nowhere near the usually erractic Clichy when it comes to defense; with Arshavin or Bendtner ahead on the left, Dempsey will be making hay with his forward runs on the right wing, delivering crosses to the strikers. Vermaelen and Djourou have a formidable task in defense, and Gibbs needs to curtail his forward runs to provide support to them. Song will be expected to lock horns with Murphy and co, while Ramsey needs to provide an encore of his performance against Manchester United to make an impact in the game. With Van Persie in scintillating form, the Welshman, along with the wide forwards, must strive to assist the Dutchman in converting chances. Brede Hangeland is a huge threat in corner kicks, and they will need to cover him at all costs before he wreaks havoc on them; Bendtner could get a call ahead of Arshavin, for the purpose of assisting in defending set piece kicks.
Probable Starting XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Djourou, Gibbs, Song, Wilshere, Ramsey, Bendtner, Walcott, Van Persie
- Fulham have failed to score in six of their eight home fixtures against Arsenal.
- If Van Persie scores in this game, he will equal the record of most goals scored in a season since January 1st, jointly held by Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo.
- Fulham have scored thirty percent of their goals from headers.
- Arsenal have scored exactly four goals in the final game in three out of the last five seasons.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Brede Hangeland (Fulham)
The towering Norwegian has been a big presence in the Fulham defense, and has contributed well in both his defensive and goal scoring duties. He will be relied on to stop Van Persie from scoring, while attempting to utilize his height in set piece deliveries. His brace against Birmingham, along with a clean sheet, highlights the all-round capabilities of the defender.
Robin Van Persie (Arsenal)
The Dutchman has hit a purple patch since recovering from an ankle injury, having started in most of Arsenal’s games this year and scoring a bagful of goals. He has already become the first Dutchman to score 17 goals in the league, and will be looking to add more accolades to his resume as he looks to secure a much sought win for his side.
Fulham 1-1 Arsenal
It would be a nervy affair for the Gunners, and Fulham would be looking to seize the initiative at the earliest. Arsenal could score the first goal and concede one in the later stages of the game, to end up fourth in the league standings, with a long summer ahead providing the players time to retrospect about the disastrous season so far.