Arsenal host London rivals Fulham at the Emirates Stadium later today hoping to make it six Premier League wins on the spin and move into the top four.
Arsene Wenger’s side have won five in a row since being beaten by rivals Tottenham in last months North London derby with that good run of form aiding supporters in wiping a dreadful start to the reason from their memory. Amazingly the Gunners were touted as candidates for relegation after their 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Manchester United in August only to see their form and league position improve dramatically on the back of eight wins from their last 10 games. An erratic opening to the campaign could be owed large in part to the departure of key players with the squad looking unsettled and weaker than it did the season before. Thankfully Wenger has steadied the ship with his summer signings starting to come good and key players beginning to put in the sort of performances expected. The return to form of Robin van Persie has been a major bonus to the Arsenal side with the Dutchman scoring 33 goals during 2011 and proving to be a source of consistent inspiration at the Emirates. His sparkling form seems to have rubbed off on others with winger Theo Walcott also putting in a series of dazzling displays on the wing whilst Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta are striking up a telling partnership in midfield. Incredibly the Gunners much maligned back four has started to come good with the return of Thomas Vermaelen from injury aiding in the adjustment of Per Mertesacker who looks to be growing in confidence with each passing game. The squad now looks settled and resilient and they displayed that against Norwich last week after going a goal down in the first half. The manner in which they responded and showed a steely resolve to come back and win the game is a quality not many teams possess. It’s up to Wenger now to keep confidence high and his team believing they can go out there and beat anyone placed in front of them with Fulham coming to town.
The Cottagers make the short from West London on Saturday hovering just above the relegation zone having lost three of their last five Premier League games. It’s been a tough start to life on the Thames for Martin Jol with the boss counting the cost of Fulham’s Europa League excursions. Fatigue has been a real issue for the Dutchman and his compact squad and their domestic form has suffered because of it. Despite starting well in games Fulham fade badly and it was something that was highlighted at Sunderland in their 0-0 last week where they begun boldly but ended the game looking like they’d ran a marathon. Exhaustion has certainly affected their ability to perform on the road and their form has been sketchy with one win from a possible six and finding the net only three times. Jol’s midfield and attack looked sapped of energy in the latter stages at the Stadium of Light with Clint Dempsey blowing their golden chance to win dragging a sluggish shot wide of goal with a few minutes remaining. With such a small group of players at his disposal it’s been difficult for Jol to rotate his squad in order to keep everyone fresh and away from the clutches of tiredness that is threatening to get the better of them. Having five key players out injured doesn’t help neither does a trip to face an Arsenal side on the up and possessing pace in abundance – something that could prove to be too much for the weary Fulham legs. It’s up to Jol to get his players thinking logically on the ball, retaining possession and playing their game at their own pace. Should they have to chase the Gunners all over the field it could do more damage to their hopes of a pleasant festive period.
Arsenal – 7th
Last Five: Won 2-1 v Norwich (A), Won 3-0 v West Brom (H), Won 5-3 v Chelsea (A), Won 3-1 v Stoke (H), Won 2-1 v Sunderland (A)
Potential Starting XI:
Koscielny Mertesacker Vermaelen Santos
Walcott Ramsey Gervinho
Injury News: Wenger had no new injury worries despite having five first team players currently in the treatment room although none of them look like returning any time soon.
Key Player: Robin Van Persie
There is no one else for Arsenal at the moment other than their inspirational Dutch skipper. Van Persie has been in red hot form in 2011 33 in his last 30 games with two coming against Norwich last week. Since taking the armband from Cesc Fabregas the striker has taken his game to new levels and is now a regular match winner for the Gunners. He is oozing confidence and will be expecting to continue his fine form against lowly Fulham on Sunday.
Match Fact: Arsenal have hosted Fulham 25 times since their first meeting in an FA Cup tie in 1903 and have yet to taste defeat on their own soil in 25 games recording 22 victories and three draws.
Fulham – 16th
Last Five: Drew 0-0 v Sunderland (A), Lost 3-1 v Tottenham (H), Won 2-0 v Wigan (A), Lost 3-1 v Everton (A), Lost 2-0 v Stoke (A)
Potential Starting XI:
Baird Hughes Hangeland Riise
Duff Murphy Sidwell Dempsey Dembele
Injury News: Key midfielder Steve Sidwell is a doubt after he suffered a hernia injury whilst defender Stephen Kelly is also struggling to be fit with a groin injury. Fulham could welcome back Simon Davies though after he spent the last four month’s out with a knee injury.
Key Player: Danny Murphy
The Fulham skipper has been as inspirational as ever this season putting in a number of playmaking displays from the centre of midfield. Despite being 34-years-old Murphy has the ability to dictate the tempo of a game and that skill will be needed if the Cottagers are to preserve their low energy levels at the Emirates. His guile on the ball will be key to opening up an Arsenal defence that is still susceptible to a mistake or two.
Match Fact: Fulham have never beaten Arsenal in the Premier League on 10 visits to North London and have managed only three draws in games at Highbury and the Emirates Stadium.
Last Time at the Emirates Stadium
Premier League 4 December 2010
Arsenal 2-1 Fulham
Nasri, 14, 75 – Kamara, 30.
Referee: Chris Foy
Arsenal have been superb over the last month or so winning five in a row and putting themselves back into contention for top four finish. The form of Van Persie and Walcott has been a godsend to the Gunners with the duo proving to be a handful when they’re in sync and flying towards goal. Pace and power could prove to be a vital ingredient if they want to overcome a Fulham side who are struggling to find the energy to win games and look strong candidates for a relegation dog fight. The Cottagers have the players and talent to fight to finish lot higher but fatigue continually gets the best of them. Their short trip to North London will probably end in another defeat and push them close to the drop zone.
Written by Jak Penny