Craven Cottage, London
August 24, 2013; 12:45 BST
The first London derby of the season is upon us as Arsenal FC travel to Craven Cottage to face Fulham. Both the teams have got contrasting starts to their respective Premier League campaigns. Arsenal are coming into this match on the back of a worrying 3-1 defeat at the hands of Aston Villa, a team that were involved in the relegation scrap last season, at home. The panic button was well and truly pressed after that result as all the fans and critics were up in arms.
Arsene Wenger was booed by the home crowd as the club’s lack of transfer activity, despite huge promises at the, has led to question marks being raised about the Frenchman’s future at the Emirates. Arsenal currently have one of the thinnest squad in the league, with injuries plaguing the squad and the opening day result rang out the warning bells loud and clear. But their midweek performance against Fenerbahce, in the Champions League qualifier, must have restored some of the confidence among the players. Arsenal came away with a comfortable 3-0 victory – a result which has all but assured their place in the group stages of the competition. Champions League football is critical for the Gunners, not only financially, but as a mean to attract top class talents to the Emirates in the remaining period of the transfer window. They will go into this match against Fulham with renewed belief in their abilities and hope to make up for their poor start.
Fulham, on the other hand, are coming into this game on the back of a away victory against Sunderland. The Cottagers were on the back foot for most of the game as Paolo Di Canio’s newly assembled squad dominated possession and attack. But Fulham’s defense weathered the storm and they managed to gather all three points courtesy of headed goal from Pajtim Kasami – incredibly, that was Fulham’s only shot on target in that game. Martin Jol would have been delighted with that result as it has allowed them some breathing space ahead of this tough fixture against the Gunners.
The last time these two sides met, Per Mertesacker scored the only goal of the match as both Steve Sidwell and Olivier Giroud were sent off. Fulham have won only two of their last six matches at home against Arsenal in the league. Their last victory came at the start of last year, when Bobby Zamora scored a memorable winner in the 92nd minute of the match.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Martin Jol faces some selection issues ahead of this fixture. Along with three points, Fulham returned with two injuries as well. Maarten Stekelenburg will miss the next game due a shoulder injury, which saw him being substituted by David Stockdale in the second half of the game against Sunderland. Left back Kieran Richardson also came off in the first half with an hamstring injury and is sure to miss the match against Arsenal. Kacanilic and Amorebieta will be fit for this fixture, although Martin Jol is unlikely to make any changes to the defence that kept the clean sheet against Sunderland.
Stockdale will start in goal in place of the injured Stekelenburg, while Briggs will replace Richardson at the left back spot. New signings Scott Parker and Darren Bent are also in contention for start, as is Bryan Ruiz. But it will be interesting to see whether Martin Jol tinkers with an winning eleven.
Martin Jol used a 4-4-1-1 formation against Sunderland, where Berbatov lead the line upfront while Kasami played in a free role behind him. The banks of four were organised, and both Duff and Taarabt dropped deep to help out the full backs. They relied mostly on counter-attacks against Sunderland. But Martin Jol might be concerned with the fact that Fulham failed to create too many openings in their first game. There is a possibility of them being more adventurous at their home against Arsenal. Specially against a vulnerable Arsenal defense which will feature Sagna as a center back. Aston Villa exposed Arsenal’s weakness in defending counter-attacks and Fulham could look to do the same with Duff and Taarabt trying to get in behind the Arsenal full-backs.
Probable Starting XI [4-4-1-1] : Stockdale [GK]; Reither, Hughes, Hangeland, Briggs; Duff, Boateng, Sidwell, Taarabt; Kasami; Berbatov
Arsene Wenger has a long injury list to contain with ahead of this fixture. Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen remain their long term injury concerns. While Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain picked up a knee injury in their opening match and is expected to be out till October. Ryo Miyaichi (rib injury) and Abou Diaby (Knee injury) are the other names in that injury list. Nacho Monreal is also yet to fully recover from his injury. Koscielny suffered an head injury in the midweek clash against Fenerbahce, but the Frenchman would have missed this match anyways due to suspension. The defender was sent off against Aston Villa after picking up his second yellow card in the second half.
Arsenal’s lack of depth at the back will be exposed in this match against Fulham as Bacary Sagna is expected to partner Per Mertesacker as a center back. Jenkinson will take up Sagna’s usual right back role, while Gibbs, who scored the opening goal in the midweek, will start as the left-back. Ramsey and Wilshere will once again form the double pivot infront of the defense as Arsene Wenger is left with very little options due to Arteta’s injury. But rumours suggest that the Gunners could be close to signing Flamini on a free transfer ahead of this game and there is chance of him featuring at the Craven Cottage if the deal goes through in time.
There will be only one change in the attack that lacked incisiveness in front of the goal against Aston Villa. Cazorla will replace the injured Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, although there is also a possibility of Podolski starting in this match as he has been restricted to the role of a substitute so far. But reports suggest that the German could be on his way out of the Emirates with Schalke interested in him.
Arsene Wenger will start with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, but against Villa the formation almost changed 4-1-4-1 while on attack. Both Ramsey and Wilshere stayed back alternatively to do cover for the defense. But Ramsey and Wilshere is not the ideal combination in the pivot as both of them lack tactical discipline and defensive know how to play in that role of Mikel Arteta. But Arsene Wenger doesn’t have any proper replacement in the squad for the Spaniard. The midfield left the defense exposed far too often against Villa, so they would look to drop a bit deeper against Fulham and press from the front.
Probable Starting Line-Up [4-2-3-1]: Szczesny [GK]; Jenkinson, Sagna, Mertesacker, Gibbs; Ramsey, Wilshere; Walcott, Rosicky, Cazorla; Giroud
- There have been under 2.5 goals scored in Arsenal’s last 3 away games in the Premier League.
- Arsenal have won their last 5 away matches in the Premier League.
- Fulham have lost their last 4 home matches in the Premier League.
- Arsenal have kept a clean sheet in 5 of their last 7 away matches in the Premier League.
- There have been three red cards in the last three meetings between these two sides.
Player To Watch Out For
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
Aaron Ramsey has been arguably been Arsenal’s best player this season (including the preseason matches). The 22-year-old midfielder has transformed as player and it seems like he is finally close to realising his huge potential. The Welshman put up a fantastic display in the midweek against Fenerbahce, where he ended up with a goal and pre-assist. But it is his energy and creativity in the midfield that could prove to be so crucial for the Gunners this season. He is perhaps one player whom even the neutral/opposing fans wants to see him do well. He could once again be the deciding factor against Fulham.
Fulham 1-2 Arsenal
Derbies are always hard to predict. Fulham will be confident after their solid defensive performance away from home in their last game, whereas Arsenal will be coming into this game with renewed belief after their comfortable win against Fenerbahce in Turkey. Expect Fulham to score past this make shift Arsenal defense, but Gunners will score more than they concede.