Fulham arrive at The Emirates today level on points with their hosts and with a marginally inferior goal difference, which having conceded sixteen goals underlines the transformation in Arsenal this season. To underline that point, the club from the banks of The Thames have scored more goals on their travels than Arsenal have at home and that despite a six-goal feast against Southampton. Add into the mix the traditional wretched Autumnal form and Fulham probably fancy their chances of repeating their point from the corresponding fixture last season.
For Arsenal, a win is imperative. That transcends any need for a good performance, indeed a win by a big enough margin will be reported as a good outing even if overall it isn’t. And into this scenario enters a manager openly admitting that his players are not fresh or confident. The latter is hardly surprising with a run of one win in five games – we’ll ignore the Reading victory since it contained few of the usual XI – the players have not established an aura of invincibility. Arguably they are there for the taking should any team so decide. Which is why the point in Gelsenkirchen was welcomed, not just because it was a good result but it could have been more. Perhaps that will help imbue more confidence than the dropping of a two-goal lead.
Arsène identified two of the players suffering the most; Lukas Podolski and Thomas Vermaelen. According to a German journalist earlier this week, Podolski is unhappy with his role in the side. No-one could provide any such claims regarding the national team which is surprising given he plays in the same position there thus you have to put this down to journalistic licence being taken. Wenger is more concerned with his overall contribution, comparing the German to Robert Pires as if to underline the role he will use Podolski in,
Perhaps culture shock is the reason for a level of stagnation in performance but surely it will be as much to do with the overall drop in form. Those two may be locked into the same cycle, one where the two drag each other down in a spiral which is hard to break free from. Certainly if reports of playing with an ankle injury are true, this will not have helped. Overall though, I think Podolski has lived up to expectations and with the suggestion of more to come, will be a great personal success at the club.
Vermaelen though is deeper quandary. The Belgian was sparkling in his first season, prone to the odd mistake but consistent in his performance. Since his return from injury, not quite so to the extent where he has been culpable in the conceding of goals. Against Schalke, the equaliser came from an area of the penalty area that you would expect your full back to be aware of, for example. Equally though, he might have been expecting more cover from midfield as well; the left back position has become something of a poisoned chalice in Kieran Gibbs absence.
Wenger noted that his captain is intensifying expectations of himself with wearing the armband. If that continues, you would question his appointment to the role. Leadership brings responsibility and you want someone in that role who feels that, but not to the extent that the captaincy becomes a burden, a denigrating factor in their own form. Of course, if Arsenal were winning such matters would be overlooked but everything at the club is subjected to microscopic examination as the team are falling short once more.
They will miss Jack Wilshere this afternoon and we’ll see more from him next week as his premature encapsulation in the England squad brings back into the spotlight the weight of expectation. He trod a path dangerously close to calling this crop of youngsters at international level a Golden Generation when he noted that they were all natural ball players. That was ruined when he drew Tom Cleverley into the conversation. He’ll learn.
As it is, his absence may result in a return to the starting line-up for either Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Aaron Ramsey. I think the Welsh international is the more likely of the two, returning to his favoured – and more effective – role in the side. Other than that, I do not see any particular justification for changing the team for today’s clash. Szczesny played yesterday against West Ham but that might see him win a place on the bench, an inspiration for Vito Mannone to play the game of his life and keep the Pole waiting a little longer for his return to action. That would not do either any harm, to be honest.
I would expect the line-up to be:
Mannone; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Ramsey, Cazorla, Arteta; Walcott, Giroud, Podolski
The end product for today has to be a win. The performance, those will improve as results take an upward turn and personally, I would rather the team played badly and won than the reverse.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.