LIVE from Craven Cottage, London
15:00 GMT, 20th Apr
If there has been one connection between Fulham and Arsenal FC, it has to be one Sir Henry Norris. Back in the days, when he was chairman at Arsenal after serving a few years in the same post with Fulham, he had a plan of merging the two clubs and create a ‘London Super Club’. Those plans never saw the light of the day, and both teams made good name for themselves in English football, obviously Arsenal always a much larger brand than the club at Craven Cottage.
Despite the fact that Craven Cottage is one of the smallest top tier football stadiums, Fulham FC has recent European experience and are never shy of pulling off major upsets. Arsenal will like to forget their last trip to Fulham where they went home without any points (1-2). In fact, the last time Arsenal won here with a significant scoreline was 7 years back when Thierry Henry ruled London. With former Spurs man Martin Jol at the helm, the club has a manager capable of bringing decent success in the near future. The Dutchman managed Spurs during the mid 2000s and was fairly successful with them as he moved to different countries for different challenges with Hamburger SV and Ajax.
For Fulham, this has been an average season with highs and lows, and they are running through the motions as they have absolutely nothing to play for. Sitting at 10th position in the league, the manager can rotate his squad and give some young players experience in the top level. Meanwhile, Arsenal are coming to Craven Cottage with everything to play for. They need a win before they play the runaway champions Manchester United at home.
Team Line-up and Tactics
The first leg at The Emirates was one of the most incredible games of the season, where despite Arteta missing a penalty, the scoreline read 3-3. It was a disappointment for the home side as they will be all charged against Fulham at Craven Cottage. Fulham, were recently involved in a damaging defeat at the hands of another London club. They will at least try to make amends at home where they have a very formidable record and support.
Former Arsenal man Senderos will continue to play at the back with former Arsenal target Hangeland. Fulham won’t get the services of former Chelsea man Damien Duff as he is out with an adductor strain. Mahamadou Diarra is still suffering from a knee injury, but Martin Jol will welcome back Steve Sidwell after his three-match suspension. Ashkan Dejagah has been ruled out for the season with an ankle injury. Em Frimpong won’t be able to face his mother-club, hence another absentee for the game, making Jol’s job even more difficult with his thin squad.
Karagounis and Sidwell will hold the midfield together with their calm and poise. Key men Ruiz and Berbatov will operate at the top as the main threat for the Gunners. Ruiz will play in his usual free role, a player capable of changing a game on his own.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1) : Schwarzer (Gk), Riether, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise, Sidwell, Karagounis, Emanuelson, Ruiz, Berbatov, Petric
Speaking to the media on Friday, Arsene Wenger confirmed that his in-form keeper Lukas Fabianski will continue to be treated in the sidelines having suffered a serious rib injury, which means fellow countryman W Szczesny fills in for the elder Pole in the visit to Craven Cottage. Estranged Captain Thomas Vermaelen will, again, sit on the bench with Mertesacker and Koscielny being the favored defensive combination at this moment. Mertesacker being the calm and stable defender at the back, it is always a competition for places between Koscielny and Vermaelen, and as of now the Frenchman is up in the pecking order. Nacho Monreal might play ahead of Gibbs in this derby, giving the Englishman some rest after two consecutive games in 4 days left him fatigued.
In the midfield, Cazorla, Wilshere and Ramsey are no less tired but might still start as options are a bit limited on that front. Tomas Rosicky will have to pass a late fitness test and Abou Diaby is officially injured for eternity now. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who can play down the middle as well as the flanks, may find a start too after some impressive cameos in the last few games, considering Theo Walcott has been in quite poor form off-late. A notable mention for the Englishman – Theo is the only Premiership player in Europe to have more than 10 goals and 10 assists so far this season.
Despite good cameos from Gervinho and Podolski, both find it difficult to make it to the team, as the structure fails to insert more than one striker. Olivier Giroud, despite his poor scoring stats, will continue to be deployed at the top of the park with either of Podolski and Gervinho around him.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1) : Szczesny (GK), Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Ramsey; Cazorla, Gervinho, Podolski; Giroud
- Since the beginning of February, Arsenal have conceded only six goals in nine Premier League games, keeping four clean sheets during this run.
- Fulham have only kept one clean sheet in their last 12 home games in the Premier League.
- Mikel Arteta has taken (six) and scored (five) more penalties than any other player this season.
- Fulham are unbeaten in their last four Barclay Premier League meetings with Arsenal, drawing three and winning one.
[All stats courtesy EuroSport]
Player to watch out for
Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham)
Former Spurs man, Dimitar has scored 13 goals so far this season. He is a player with remarkable abilities and is never short of ideas. Not being able to make a huge mark at Manchester United, Berbatov is likely to play the rest of his career with Fulham FC and the club will relish that. Arsenal needs to watch out for the charismatic Bulgarian.
Fulham 1 – 3 Arsenal
Though Fulham are a difficult opposition to play at their home, Arsenal will be totally up for the task knowing they can’t put one wrong foot before a big game at home. They can’t afford to drop points as other London clubs vying for that European spot are sniffing like angry wolves. Arsenal to win it 3-1 with another spectacular display in the second half, goals coming from Giroud, Podolski and Arteta.