Fulham this afternoon in the late kick-off. Gee, thanks Disney. The visit to Craven Cottage follows last season’s debacle and is in a sense, a litmus test for progress this season. All of the players have acknowledged that the title is to be won in games such as these with the mini-league between the top four clubs of lesser significance. That may be so but points earned against close rivals count when closing or extending gaps.
Robin van Persie re-iterated that when he observed the impact in previous seasons:
If you look last year, the way Manchester United became champions was against the smaller teams. They won against all the teams from 19 to 10. That is why they became champions. So it is very important to win these games.
At which point van Persie picked himself up off the floor have slightly exaggerated his final sentence. Hopefully neither that injury or his real one will preclude a full and goalscoring involvement at Craven Cottage.
The forward line was the subject of some observations yesterday, the follow-on from the Triad’s outburst. Arsene, it seems, is not willing to waste a cent on Marouane Chamakh. You wonder if Chamakh is going the same way of those such as Cana before him. Cana is constantly linked with the club but that has never been seriously followed up since he was turned away by UK Immigration at 16 en route to a two-week trial at Arsenal, his background from a war torn nation counting against him at the time.
He is content with van Persie, Eduardo and Bendtner leading the line. A serious injury might change that opinion. Wenger‘s rationale for not spending his money was re-emphasised – he believes he has enough quality in the squad already. With only one long-term injury to deal with, he is content that Nasri, Walcott and Fabianski will give the depth he needs over the coming months. Or in Wenger’s own words, “We have an unbelievable squad“. Time will tell on that one.
As Cesc observed in an interview with Don Balon, the only time a season can be assessed is when the last ball has been kicked. The tone of the interview is set in the opening paragraph which indicates that the coming summer will be the one when he leaves London. In the opinion of the magazine, the Spanish equivalent of FourFourTwo. Cesc talks about his own future, of course:
For now I see it, I have a contract and contracts are to try to meet them. The truth is that right now I do not think beyond what may be this year.
He was not going to be let off that quickly or easily. Questioned about whether he had missed the ‘train’ – joining Barca or Madrid in this instance – the captain displayed a media-savvy instinct:
No, I have missed trains and have always taken those that I thought were better for me
The issue of media speculation is given short shrift:
I attempt to isolate myself from this speculation, surround myself with my family, my friends and my girlfriend, and the end of the day try to keep a low profile. Suffice to say I’m the boss and the only one who really knows what is happening.
Just to be clear on that issue, he is (a) focussed on the current season, (b) hoping to be playing the Bernabeu next May in the Champions League final and (c) on the subject of returning to Spain, “We’ll see what happens in the future, which right now is to win something with Arsenal“. So expect a slew of how Cesc has refused to commit himself stories appearing over coming weeks.
Today’s fixture sees the return of Andrei Arshavin following his injury at Old Trafford, exacerbated on international duty. It strengthens the attacking prowess in what you would expect to be a pretty much unchanged team from the encounter with Wigan last Saturday.
Despite the clean sheet in midweek, it would be a tough decision on Mannone to be replaced in goal by Szczeny. At the moment, it is a matter of Arsene’s personal judgement on the two but to make that change would fly in the face of his previous policy of having his first team goalkeeper entirely separate from the custodian in both domestic cups. Roy Hodgson was effusive in his praise for Arsene, a manner of delivery missing in the media:
Arsene’s career has been second to none. It has been quite incredible the job he has done at Arsenal, at Monaco and at Nagoya Grampus Eight. He’s a first-class manager and coach and all the praise that has been showered his way is praise that, for me, has been fully deserved.
Whilst Hodgson has not achieved as many honours in the English game, it is interesting to see the change in the media’s perception. Unsuccessful in his spell at Blackburn, he is rightly praised for moving Fulham up the table last season and into Europe. Given the work he has carried out abroad, it is surprising that Hodgson does not get more recognition for this. However, Fulham appear to be suffering a little through European exertions and Arsenal must be ready to take advantage of this.
The team I would expect Arsene to put out today is:
Mannone; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Fabregas, Diaby; Arshavin, van Persie, Eboue
That assumes everyone is fit. If Arshavin or van Persie is not quite ready, Eduardo will probably be the one to slot in with Bendtner remaining on the bench. Arsene will look for a solid start to the game perhaps before unleashing Rosicky on the tiring hosts. Which means the Czech will probably start in place of Diaby!
Three points is the required result, not least because it is hard to see any of the teams above us dropping any points this afternoon. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.