Coming straight after a bittersweet draw to Schalke in the Champion’s League, the Gunners will look to regain some confidence against London rivals Fulham. They play home in front a crowd that arguably have yet to witness their often fabled “Arsenal of old” but still maintain hope after their unconvincing start to the season. Their last match against Schalke 04 sums up the entire season in my view: we start off convincingly against tough opponents, keeping a clean sheet and scoring to good goals. As the match wore on, we start to fade and lose momentum, for no discernible reason. The match ends a stalemate, and everyone goes home wondering what went wrong. Despite being at home to one of the top sides in Germany, you can’t help but feel slightly disappointed in the final result. That match was there to be one, and at 2-0, you’d expect the players to see out the match away from home. They have another chance to redeem themselves this weekend against Fulham, who are 1 place below in the EPL table. Both sides have had their toils and snares this season, and both will look to make a strong showing in a London Derby.
Arsenal / DLWLWL
Certainly not the best record for a top team, but come this weekend we’ll only be 11 games into a 38 game season. Time is still firmly on our side, as the team look to turn the ship around and get back to winning ways.
Fulham / WLDWDD
The Cottagers come to the Emirates in better form than their opponents, only losing once in their last 6 EPL matches. While some say that having drawn 3 times in their last 6 means that they’re likely to play on the back foot the entire match, I think Fulham will come to play for 3 points, knowing full well that we’re not at our best.
Now that we’ve got a basic idea of what the game holds for us, let’s look at 3 key points to defeating Fulham.
1. Dominate the Left Flank
Damien Duff has been in fine form for the Cottagers, scoring 3 and assisting 2 in 9 games. He’s an industrious winger with a never say die attitude that should be admired and equally feared, given our recent problems at left back. I propose starting Sagna on the left and Jenkinson on the right, as we saw temporarily when Jenkinson was first blooded in the side last season. It ensures proper cover on both sides, while also handing Thomas Vermaelen a rest. He may be the captain, but given his recent form, there should be no qualms with dropping him to the bench for one match. Laurent Koscielny needs game time as well, and it’s unfair to have him ride the pine if he’s more effective than who’s on the pitch. With Sagna behind him, Lukas Podolski will have a more reliable and experienced figure to depend on in defense, allowing to attack with the enthusiasm and effectiveness that brought him to us in the first place. Podolski has one great thing going for him on the wing, that being his link to Giroud. Both assists from Poldi have been to Giroud, and both assists have come from crosses outside the box. Of those two assisted goals by Poldi, both have hit the back of the net from a Giroud header. It’s that kind of service that Olivier requires, but the only way Podolski will be free to provide killer balls is to keep possession, and allow him to get into advanced positions without constantly having worry about tracking back.
2. Stifle Bryan Ruiz
Bryan Ruiz is their Santi Cazorla, with 4 assists and a typical wonder goal, Ruiz is the biggest threat to the team. With a reborn Dimitar Berbatov just ahead of him, it’s important to cut the supply off from the source, instead of trying to mark Berbatov, who becomes an immediate threat anywhere in the 18 yard box.Wayne Rooney did it to Arteta last weekend, and it worked wonders. Arteta was often harried and hassled, and wasn’t nearly as effective as normal. Despite playing different positions, the tactic remains the same: Mark Ruiz out of the match using Coquelin and Arteta, and you’ve won the match.
3. Give Theo Freedom
When Theo came on as a sub against Manchester United, he immediately switched places with Giroud, making him the central forward. Theo eventually returned to the right flank as play wore on, but it asks an interesting question that was answered in the return leg at Schalke. Arsène is willing play Walcott and Giroud up top together, and it worked wonders. Giroud’s strength and eye for a pass match perfectly with Theo’s speed and rekindled eye for goal. it’s a partnership that holds a lot of promise for an Arsenal side lacking goals, something almost unheard of in the Wenger era. Theo can be used to penetrate the defense at its heart, or create a lopsided back line while being deployed on the wing. Either way, he’ll be the danger man for Fulham, so don’t be surprised to see a lopsided formation with two right-sided players marking Walcott closely.
3-2 is the score I can see. It should be an exciting, tight affair between two teams who are desperate for points at an early stage. Berbatov and Duff should get on the score sheet at some point, while Santi Cazorla, Walcott and Giroud are also likely to hit the back of the net at any point in the match.
After the match, look out for a breakdown from either Dean or myself.