Hello Gooners! It’s Saturday again, which can mean only one thing. Not weekend parties, or boring Saturday night shows. It is the Premier League, and Arsenal will host Fulham today, in what will be a tough encounter for the home side.
Our record at home against the Cottagers (all-time) is pretty healthy, with 22 wins and 4 draws in 26 games, and emphasis has to be on making it 23 wins today. Having fallen off the pace, with 10 games gone in the season, is hardly the start.
But, to be fair, we have had some very tough fixtures to contend with early on. Stoke, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, West Ham all away, while also having to play Chelsea at home. Ideally, I would be pleased if we got 12 points out of the 6 games, but we have 8. So, covering the gap now by winning the ‘easier-on-paper’ fixtures will be vital, if we are to mount a serious title challenge.
While some have already written off Arsenal to pose any kind of real threat, history stands reminder to some memorable comebacks. Having been 11 points off the pace, in March 1998, Arsenal went on to clinch the league, and something similiar happened last season, when we blew Sp*rs 10 point gap to eventually finish above them, like we always do. What fucking gap?
That said, it is always harder done than said. Performances in recent weeks have stunk of fatigue, and a lack of any ideas or creativity. Insipid performances against Norwich, Schalke, QPR and Manchester United, where we lost thrice, and won one narrowly, have been thoroughly dissected and analysed. And, we have seen the fallout allover, be it AGM’s or black scarf protests, or abuse on Twitter against that shirt incident at OT.
Arsene Wenger has admitted that some of his top players are fatigued, especially Cazorla and Podolski, and lack freshness.
Cazorla played 17 games since the start of the season and 17 games of complete intensity and therefore of course he’s a little bit less fresh at the moment. Podolski works very hard in a position he’s not completely used to, as he has said himself. Maybe they are a little bit less fresh, but overall I believe that they will do very well.Giroud is starting to show now that he can score goals. The three buys we made are positive.
The blame can partly lie with the mad scheduling of international games. Post the Fulham game, the players will travel to far flung corners of the world, to play meaningless friendlies. And, this for preparing for qualifiers that will take place in fucking February.
And newly selected for these meaningless games, are Jack Wilshere and Carl Jenkinson. The biggest casualty, however, will be Santi Cazorla, who will travel to fucking Central America, to play Panama. Crazy, this. To have one of our top players travel half the world, whilst we continue paying his wages, and then see him return, all jetlagged, is really not ideal preparation, for what is expected to be a tasty North London derby next week.
While Jack Wilshere says that the England call up is a big boost for his confidence, Arsene Wenger has however revealed that he has had a ‘good compromise’ with England manager Roy Hodgson, another cuddly bear, over the use of Wilshere in the friendly.
Wilshere, however, will find some rest, today, following his suspension at Old Trafford, where he handed a nice little kick to van Cunty. The midfielder is hoping Theo Walcott will sign a new deal very soon at the club.
With the forward claiming that money is never an incentive, and that the only incentive lay in playing centrally as a striker, in signing a new deal. His recent form will surely give Arsene Wenger something to think about. Yes, out of his 8 goals this season, 5 have come against poor opposition in the Capitol One Cup. But, he has proved in the past what a good finisher he can be, because he can beat defenders for sheer pace.
However, at times, I do not understand the situation. Though Walcott is primarily used as a winger, with the way Arsenal play usually through the centre, we have noticed in the past, Walcott moving in more centrally, more often than not. With the club looking to tie him down, before the end of the year, it will be certainly very interesting to watch how the situation goes. Another player vying for the central role, is Lukas Podolski. He says,
I’d rather play centrally up front,On the left I have to do a lot of defensive work, constantly running up and down. I am not a classical winger.I am getting along well, for sure, but I demand more of myself – I want to play even better.
Podolski showed in early games at Arsenal, what a fantastic signing he has been so far. His tireless work on the left, whilst playing in tandem with Gibbs was exemplary. But, in recent games, he has tended to fade out, and has looked jaded. Couple that with Andre Santos, the left flank has become the Gunners’ weak spot.
Now with more stability at the back, with Vermaelen playing at left-back, Podolski got more freedom, as was visible against Schalke, to gallop forward. He looked more involved, and even provided an assist, which will bode very well for him, as the Gunners look ahead to a gruelling fixture list coming up.
One player happy to play in any position, in order to impress is Francis Coquelin.
I’m happy to get a few chances there [in midfield]. I enjoyed playing full back too last season, I will play anywhere, I just want to play. But I’m really pleased this season because midfield is what I enjoy most.Well obviously it can be hard, when you have tasted the Premier League, and tasted the Champions League, you want to play every week.But that’s the same for every player, whether you are 17 or 32. I want to play every week. I’m a bit restricted because there are players ahead of me doing well, so I have to be patient, even though it’s hard, and when my time comes it’s up to me to show what I can do.I know if I perform well I’ll play. I think every time I’ve been selected this season I have done well, so hopefully there will be plenty more chances coming for me.
Team news, then. Wojciech Szczesny played in an under-21’s fixture yesterday, as he continues to recover from an ankle injury. He may be included in the squad tonight. But, Vito Mannone, who has challenged Szczesny, is expected to start in goal. Another payer on the path to recovery, is Tomas Rosicky, who trained with the squad, after 3 months out with an injury, he suffered in Euro 2012, whilst captaining Czech Republic. Among those facing late fitness tests are Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and I expect to see both of them on the bench. Wilshere’s absence means there is a good chance, Francis Coquelin will start in defensive midfield, giving Arteta slightly more freedom than he has recently had. Theo Walcott, too will get a start, most probably.
Fulham have no major injury concerns, and they themselves have a player undergoing a late fitness test, former Real Madrid midfielder and Mali international, Mahamaddou Diarra.
Here is how I can see the teams lining up.
Fulham has been a problematic fixture in the recent past. Arsenal drew at home last season, (remember that game was played after the home win against German opposition, Dortmund), when Thomas Vermaelen scored at both ends. The away fixture was lost 2-1, thanks to Djoruou’s sending off and a fine assist from Squillaci to Bobby Zamora.
Martin Jol has acquired a good experience squad, with highly experienced Premier League players in Mark Schwarzer, John Arne-Riise, Brede Hangeland, former Arsenal midfielder Steve Sidwell and Damien Duff, and has made astute purchases recently in Diarra and Berbatov, who can be more than a handful on their day.
Fulham have cause trouble for stronger opposition this season, losing narrowly 3-2 to Manchester United at Old Trafford, and also narrowly losing 2-1 at home to Manchester City. They are hard to beat, and compact, and very disciplined. That said, their flanks are their weak side, and if they fail to turn up, Podolski and Walcott could have a field day. Podolski will of course be up against his former Cologne teamate Sasha Reither, who plays at right-back.
With their clown of a manger, Martin Jol, recently saying that Arsenal cannot expect to win trophies regularly, it should provide enough incentive for the side to go out and win this game. This coming from a manager, who couldn’t even finish 4th with Sp*rs, despite seemingly looking destined for it in the 2005-2006 season. Yeah, food poisoning, Yossi Benayoun and all of that. Give him a piece of my mind, boys!
Enjoy the game wherever you are!
Jai Arsenal 🙂
While you are still here, take time out to read my new section, Personal Memory Bank, where I blog about my favorite game from this fixture, from the past. This week, it is the opening fixture of the 2007-2008 season! Enjoy!
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