Newly-promoted Fulham will begin their Premier League campaign with a London Derby against a high-flying Arsenal side this weekend.
Just a little over a month since the 2019/20 season finished, the 2020/21 Premier League campaign kicks off this Saturday. And first up, the fans will be treated to a London Derby from Craven Cottage when Fulham face off against FA Cup and Community Shield holders Arsenal.
Fulham are back in the Premier League just a year after their dismal outing in 2018/19. Under the tutelage of former midfielder turned manager Scott Parker, the Cottagers have worked their way back into the top-flight, via the play-offs, as they defeated London rivals Brentford in the final.
As far as preparations are concerned, the Cottagers played just one friendly against MK Dons, which ended in a 2-2 draw. They will be looking to begin their campaign on a strong note in order to avoid a similar fate as the last time they were in the top tier.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have turned over a new leaf under Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard led the Gunners to two trophies last month, first winning the FA Cup before beating Premier League champions Liverpool for the FA Community Shield.
The North London outfit have also strengthened their squad significantly ahead of the new season, especially at the back, addressing a problem that has been plaguing them for a while now. Arteta & co. will be aiming to start the campaign with a victory this weekend and set the tone early for a top four push.
And ahead of the 2020/21 Premier League season opener on Saturday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.
Team News & Tactics
Fulham have brought in a number of new faces into the squad this summer, with Kenny Tete and Alphonse Areola (loan) joining the team over the past couple of days. They join Antonee Robinson, Mario Lemina (loan) as the new signings, while Harrison Reed and Anthony Knockaert have also been signed on permanent deals after impressive loan stints.
There are no injury-related absentees for the hosts to contend with. But, it will be interesting to see whether Parker holds the summer arrivals back or throws them into the deep end right away. The latter is likely to be the case, meaning Areola should pip Marek Rodak to the starting spot in goal.
Tete is likely to slot in at right-back ahead of Denis Odoi. However, Joe Bryan, who scored the all-important winner in the play-off finals, is likely to be retained on the left-side ahead of Antonee Robinson. Tim Ream and Michael Hector should form the central defensive partnership for the Cottagers.
Parker used a two-man midfield pivot for most of last season and is likely to persist with it. Tom Cairney and Reed ought to be the two starting midfielders, with Josh Onomah likely to slot in as the No. 10. However, there is a good chance that the manager might to go in with Lemina instead of Onomah and switch to a three-man midfield unit against a team like Arsenal.
The front three pretty much picks itself for Fulham, with star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic spearheading the attack, flanked by the dynamic duo of Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro. Bobby Reid and Neeskens Kabano are other options available at the manager’s disposal.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Areola; Tete, Hector, Ream, Bryan; Reed, Cairney; Knockaert, Onomah, Cavaleiro; Mitrovic
Arsenal, too, have a number of new faces amongst them, with Willian joining from Chelsea, while Gabriel Magalhaes has arrived from Lille. William Saliba is back from his loan spell at Saint-Etienne, while Dani Ceballos has returned for another loan stint from Real Madrid. Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares have been signed on permanent transfers.
Heading into the weekend game, Arsenal will have to make do without Pablo Mari, while fellow defenders Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers are also ruled out. David Luiz is also a major doubt with a neck complaint, whereas forward Gabriel Martinelli also misses out.
Emiliano Martinez has performed brilliantly in the absence of Bernd Leno. However, the German international should take up the goalkeeping slot on Saturday. Shielding him will be a three-man backline comprising of William Saliba, who will make his competitive debut for Arsenal, along with Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney.
Back at the Emirates, Ceballos is a certainty to feature in the middle of the park. He will have former captain Granit Xhaka as his partner, with Mohamed Elneny providing cover from the bench. Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles are likely to be the two wing-backs on the right and left sides, respectively.
Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is nailed down for a starting berth on the left flank, while Bukayo Saka, Willian and Nicolas Pepe will battle it out for the right-wing spot. Arteta could opt to go in with Saka, while Eddie Nketiah is likely to be preferred over Alexandre Lacazette for the centre-forward slot.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Leno; Saliba, Holding, Tierney; Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles; Saka, Nketiah, Aubameyang
- Fulham have lost each of their last five Premier League matches against Arsenal. The last time they were in the top-flight, in 2018/19, the Cottagers shipped in nine goals in their two games against the Gunners.
- Arsenal have lost just one of their last 13 Premier League games against Fulham (W8 D4). That loss came way back in January 2012, at Craven Cottage.
- This will be just the second time that Arsenal and Fulham are meeting on the opening day of the top-flight season. The previous instance came in 2007/08, which the Gunners won 2-1.
- Fulham have lost their last ten top-flight London derbies – all of which came in the 2018/19 campaign – the longest ever run by any club in top-flight history.
- Arsenal are facing a newly-promoted side on the opening matchday of a Premier League season for the fifth time. They have never lost such a fixture on the previous four occasions (W4 D1).
Player to Watch
One year after signing for Arsenal in a £27 million deal, 19-year-old defender William Saliba is in line to make his competitive debut for the Gunners after a loan stint at former club Saint-Etienne. The defender is held in high regard back in his homeland and for good reason.
Saliba made quite the impression for Saint-Etienne when they finished 4th in 2018/19, although last season was an injury-riddled one for the youngster. Having not played in a competitive environment since March, he will have his task cut out on Saturday, going up against a striker like Mitrovic, who can mix it up with his speed and strength.
Fulham 0-2 Arsenal
Fulham had a good season in the Championship and are back in the Premier League. However, going up against an Arsenal side that beat Chelsea and Liverpool to win trophies over the last month will be a quite a difficult challenge for their first game back in the top tier.
Under Arteta, the Gunners have shown plenty of progress and they should have enough quality to ease past their London rivals on the opening day of the season. The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts a 2-0 win for the North London outfit.