I used to like Fulham till last year. They were a decent side and played better than many other teams around them in the table. Hodgson was a good manager and tactically he knew how to trouble Arsenal.
Now it’s impossible for me like them. And that is down to one man – Mark Hughes, who in my book falls in the same category as Pulis, Brown, et al. I used to hate his Blackburn teams and not much has altered even though he’s changed a couple of clubs.
I haven’t seen many Fulham games this season so I’m not sure how they’re playing right now. They did attempt a staggering 602 passes against Birmingham in their last game, completing around 75 percent of those. Looking further back they did attempt over 400 passes in all their recent games including tough ones against City and Chelsea.
Obviously, Hodgson has left a good team for Hughes who has struggled to get results with a good squad. Fulham have won only 2 games in the league so far, with no success away from home! Interestingly, they’ve lost only 4 meaning the Cottagers have drawn an astonishing 9 games.
Despite those results and their current position in the table I feel we need to take the visitors’ challenge very seriously. Sometimes it happens when a new manager comes in and the team has some injury issues that good performances don’t yield results. So we should not assume they’re a weak team simply based on their results and position in the league.
In my articles before and after Fulham games last season I mentioned that the Cottagers knew how to beat Arsenal (or at least put up a genuine fight). Their approach under Hodgson had been very much like what West Brom did at the Emirates this season. It will be interesting to see if Hughes can get similar performances out of them.
If he does, we can expect them to press us constantly in the middle of the park. They’ll try to win the ball back in the central areas and build quick attacks with balls down the channels. The likes of Murphy and Dembele will pull the strings while they look to exploit the pace of Johnson and Dempsey’s abilities in the box.
I think this game will be a real challenge for our midfield. If they buckle under pressure or fail to maintain the balance between attack and defence, we will have serious problems. If they can hold their own under pressure and move the ball to the attacking players we could dominate this game. An early goal will make it very interesting.
It also goes without saying that like with most mid-table and bottom-half teams, Fulham will test Arsenal aerially in the box. The Keeper and central defenders will have to deal with these balls while the fullbacks have to minimize clear crossing opportunities. Once again the midfield will have to be close to the defence to win the second ball. If they fail in this our defence will be stretched and exposed.
On the other end Fulham have a decent defence, they’re fifth in the list of least goals conceded just below Arsenal. But I’m confident our players will create a number of chances and convert at least a couple. We should not go out wide that often but use it as a surprise tactic. Fulham are good at dealing with balls into their box but we can open them up with coordinated movement and sharp passing on the ground.
As far as the starting eleven goes I hope Arsene picks the same team that beat Aston Villa. Cesc is unfit and RvP should not be rushed, so I don’t see a possibility for change.
The only argument would be for Djourou to get a starting role ahead of Squillaci or Koscielny but right now I feel any two of the three will be the same. Arsene seems to prefer the two Frenchmen.
We are likely to see the following line-up,
Fabianski – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Rosicky, Wilshere – Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin.
If Song and Wilshere do their jobs right we should get the three points. In the cat and mouse game going on at the top of the league we could be ahead if Everton can pull off a result at Stamford Bridge. That seems more likely than Fulham causing an upset but I’ve been known to jinx the Arsenal results in the past! <runs away and hides while clasping a log>