Arsenal make the short trip to Craven Cottage for a key match in the run-in. A hackneyed cliche it might be but this is a must-win match. They all are at this stage of the season but with come the final whistle, Tottenham will have two games in hand and the gap has to be five points to ensure the pressure moves back to them tomorrow. To find themselves just two points in arrears passes them a significant advantage, no matter who those matches are against.
Fulham have not been the most welcome of guests or hospitable hosts in recent seasons, Arsenal haven’t registered a win over them since December 201o or won in West London since September 2009. Whilst they were overwhelmed in the midweek derby, Fulham seem unlikely to allow Arsenal to just turn up and win; the mental strength shown in the recent mini-revival in form needs to be displayed once more, which is more relevant than poor recent history.
Arsène goes into the game knowing whether the midweek niggles are healed. Key to that will be Tomas Rosicky, whose nimble movements and speed of thought have been missed in the home games against Norwich and Everton. If fit, he gives the manager the type of selection headache he will like to have. Aaron Ramsey has been immense recently and as close to undroppable as anyone at the moment. It marks a remarkable turnaround in opinion of him and he was a way to go with some people still, but the Welshman has silenced a lot of his critics. With Mikel Arteta, he has provided the defence with protection that was missing earlier in the season. I suspect Jack Wilshere may find himself on the bench if the Czech recovers for today.
Up front, Olivier Giroud is dividing opinion with a clamour for Lukas Podolski to take the central striking role. The opportunity for this exists this afternoon should Arsène decide on more counter-attacking style, or perhaps Theo Walcott leading the line instead. The latter is an option if the manager has a fully fit midfield to choose from. Giroud could consider himself unlucky not to have scored more against Norwich but missed two presentable chances against Everton. Having an average of one goal every three games, a shame that final opportunity didn’t manifest. But that is not his strength to the side, the French international is one of the hardest working strikers in the English game, closing players down and running his opponents hard during games. That affords colleagues the space to exploit for others. We were spoiled with van Persie in having a thirty goals a season striker in the League but let’s not forget, we only saw that last season; the rest was supposition as he was rarely fit enough to last that long. So rare, that was the only time he managed more than thirty Premier League games for Arsenal. They are different types of forwards and as a first season in the English game goes, Giroud has not done badly at all.
I would personally not include Walcott today either, at least from the start. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has done well as an impact sub, certainly adding a bit of impetus upon introduction. This afternoon, I think his overall work-rate might be better suited to the occasion than Walcott’s speed on the break. Indeed, the latter would be a potent weapon for the last half an hour.
The line-up I would like is:
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Ramsey, Wilshere (Rosicky), Arteta; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud, Cazorlaa
If Arsenal can bring the intensity of the performances against Norwich (the last twenty minutes) and Everton (the last seventy minutes), they should be confident of achieving victory. The efforts expended in those and the wins in Germany, Wales and the West Midlands were achieved by hard work. It would be naive to expect anything less to bring about victory today; Fulham will have been stung by their defeat to Chelsea and no doubt, redouble their efforts to restore pride. Simply because they have reached the mythical safety level of 40 points does not mean they will automatically take it easy in the remaining games. Add into that the personal nature of the meeting with Wenger, Martin Jol will be motivating his players with a little more edge than normal.
But Arsenal have enough quality to win and with right application, will do so. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.