January 18, 2013; 15:00 BST
Arsenal FC are top of the pile and can continue to be there for another week as they welcome Fulham. The Gunners have a good record against London clubs this season and would be approaching this game with definite optimism. On the other hand Fulham have struggled to get results, both home and away and despite a couple of brave outings, have shown an indifferent run of form that sees them sitting on an uncomfortable 16th place and only one point clear off 18th. Defeat could leave them in the bottom 3 of results don’t go their way.
Change in management has revived Fulham’s hopes of staying up but has clearly made them defensively fragile, having let in an amazing 20 goals in their last 6 games. Arsenal on the other hand have been watertight at the back and despite shipping in 6 goals in a goalfest at the Etihad, have only allowed 2 in their last 5. The home side maybe overriding favourites for the game, but their recent home form has been a little edgy. Games against Cardiff, Chelsea and Everton have seen the Gunners look wayward in attack and this clash provides an ideal opportunity to get back to their A-game heading into some tricky fixtures in February and March.
Both teams have qualified for the FA Cup fourth round and Fulham’s win in midweek could be a timely booster before they travel to the league leaders. The ploy might be too soak the pressure by maintaining a good shape in defence and try to counter-punch the home side but that could be risky, especially if Arsenal manage to score early. Arsenal have been accused of making things difficult for themselves in the past and this season has been a change for the better. Complacency needs to be avoided at every cost and with Man City kicking off simultaneously against Cardiff, the top of the table should be motivation enough to go and secure the win.
Team news and tactics
Arsene Wenger has relatively better team news for the Arsenal fans ahead of the Saturday clash, with Monreal having shaken off his injury and along with Rosicky who might need to put on a face gear, are both available for selection. Nicklas Bendtner’s injury that has left the club with only 1 specialist senior striker, is recovering well but will miss out this one. Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey follow suite with both targeting an FA Cup return next Friday.
Injuries have continued to come packaged with Arsenal’s good form and Arsene Wenger would be hoping his side can continue to cope with the absentees and bag 3 points to continue their ride on the top of the table. Serge Gnabry looks to be in for a 3rd consecutive start for the first time in his Arsenal career and his performances have been one of the major positives for the gaffer after Walcott’s season-terminating injury. With Chamberlain returning from injury, Gnabry’s step up will ensure a slow and eased way back to the side for the 20 year Ox.
No game is a foregone conclusion and despite the urge to rotate, there could be a maximum of 2 changes to the Arsenal side that won at Villa Park on Monday night. Lukas Podolski might come in for Santi Cazorla on the left on the attacking trio behind Giroud and Gibbs is likely to regain his starting spot after a minor injury setback for the past 10 days. Starting Podolski could uplift Ozil’s overall impact and influence on the game’s pace, which has suffered due to the lack of behind-the-defence-running from the Arsenal midfield. Gnabry and Podolski on the wings would mean direct outlets for the midfield to feed for. Wilshere and Flamini will continue their partnership in the deeper midfield roles with the rest of the backline (except Monreal) remaining unchanged.
The main tactical battle would be in the middle of the park where Arsenal’s attacking midfield would go loggerheads with Parker and Sidwell who will continuously look to break play and squeeze out space for the home side to exploit. This is where Giroud and the wings become essential with Gibbs and Sagna providing width the Gunners would provide the Fulham defence another angle to ponder upon. Gnabry against Riise could be heavily one sided provided the former doesn’t look to cut in as often as he does and take on the Norwegian veteran. Giroud showed some positive signs on Monday night and fans would be hoping for more of the same.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna; Flamini, Wilshere; Podolski, Ozil, Gnabry; Giroud
Bryan Ruiz has joined PSV on loan for the rest of the season and Matthew Briggs continues his spell on the sidelines as Fulham prepare to travel to the Grove. There are no other injury concerns for Rene Meulensteen and the Fulham manager having acquired the services of Dempsey, can field his first choice eleven. That however might not be enough.
A 4-1 home defeat against fellow relegation contenders Sunderland last weekend seems to have woken up the West Londoners who responded with a resounding 3-0 win against Norwich in their FA Cup replay and a number of players including Richardson and Kacaniklic staked a claim for a start this weekend. However the manager might look at this game as an opportunity to play the more experienced campaigner in Damien Duff but Abel Taraabt might be dropped in favour of Kacaniklic. Rene might look to field a side looking to contain the Gunners who haven’t particularly been firing on all cylinders at home, averaging less than 2 goals per game on home soil.
Defensively the Gunners have been a formidable force, showing some terrific determination to close spaces and not allow opponents to get behind the defensive line and that is exactly what Clint Dempsey would be looking to do in this game. Mathieu Flamini will have his hands full with the American forward who will float between the lines and look for every opportunity to make a run on goal. Defensively Rene must ensure the away side don’t defend too deep, thus inviting pressure in turn which would be playing the game in Arsenal’s favour, right from the off.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Stockdale(GK); Reither, Amorebeita, Hangeland, Riise; Parker, Sidwell; Duff, Kacaniklic, Dempsey; Berbatov
- Fulham FC have never won away at Arsenal in any competition, losing 22 of the 27 visits to the Gunners.
- The Gunners have kept seven clean sheets in their last eight games in all competitions at the Emirates Stadium.
- Arsenal have played 39 through balls this season, a league high. Fulham have managed only 8.
Player to watch out for
Jack Wilshere(Arsenal FC)
With Aaron Ramsey spending the best part of the festive period and the new year on the sidelines Arsenal needed their homegrown number 10 to stand up and be counted and Jack Wilshere has done just that. 3 top notch performances in wins over Tottenham, Cardiff and Villa make him a key component to the Arsenal machinery and he will again be looking to cement his place in the starting eleven after a run of games in the side. The English prodigy will be up against the midfield of Sidwell and Parker who would look to hassle and frustrate the midfielder and how Wilshere wins his own mini-battles will be the tactical highlight of the game.
Arsenal 3 – 0 Fulham
Fulham have looked every bit the relegation favourites that they are and Arsenal should be fancying a comfortable win in this derby which has been tricky in recent seasons with some dogged determination shown by the visitors in keeping the Gunners at bay. This season however the Cottagers are leaking goals for fun and one would imagine, the attacking unit of the home side which has looked rusty in the last few weeks will love to regain their cutting edge in this game. Should be an easy home win.