Fulham arrive at The Emirates today, facing an Arsenal side bouyed by their European adventures. Not that you would realise it with the negativity in the broadcast media, punditry apparently reaching its nadir. Which is why nobody should listen to stations such as Talksh*te who thrive and exist purely to create attention for themselves. Despite knowing this, you still do but hey ho. From what I have read about the comments, they have been making their print colleagues appear lucid and information. How low can you go?
It is the 83rd meeting between the two teams across all competitions, major and minor. Fulham have three victories at Arsenal, all in WW1 matches. Not a good record. Indeed they do not seem to like this part of North London at all; of the 25 senior matches, they have 3 draws with 22 defeats. Even in Arsenal’s dark days of the early to mid-60s, Fulham couldn’t win at Highbury. It is that sort of feelgood record that makes this match seem a straightforward occasion. One ripe for over-confidence. That, to me, is Arsène’s biggest test this evening.
Not that there is a hint of that from Andre Santos. In a Daily Express interview this morning, he speaks of the half-time at Stamford Bridge,
I sat down in the corner of the dressing room at half-time against Chelsea and thought about that. I focused on the fact I must be better. I thought about it and decided, ‘I have to go back and play much better’. Things have definitely got better for me since then and I am still trying to improve.
It is that sort of attitude we could have done with senior pros showing last season. It didn’t happen and it is a relief almost, to read an Arsenal player showing self-awareness without it seeming to be a soundbite. Wenger emphasised that this is the squad attitude,
I believe what turned the season around is the excellent attitude and mentality of the players. The players who came in have all shown excellent desire to do well and the right focus. That was the real turning point. I was always optimistic because every day the players wanted to improve. When you have that in the dressing room you have a chance.
He has never been slow to praise the mental attitude of previous squads but this time there seems to be more substance to it. The love-in since Dortmund has been fine and goodness knows that the squad is entitled to feel bouyant having turned the season around relatively quickly.
Santos’ comments identify a key aspect of that turnaround; desire. It is burning into their souls how quickly the club was written off as Arsenal hovered above the relegation zone after few games were played. Nobody, it seemed, believed that the squad was good enough to turn things around. Defeat this weekend for Chelsea and/or Manchester City will see them cement their positions as the Premier League’s crisis clubs. Already the heat is on Villas-Boas, especially with Abramovich’s public backing. The difference between the Chelsea manager’s Press Conferences and those of Wenger highlight the reality of both club’s philosophies. The media tried to get Arsène to put his own head on the block; Villas-Boas is being dragged there, kicking and screaming.
To end the day in the top four would require some outlandish luck but in a season of freakish results, Arsenal need to ensure that they win their matches to take full advantage. They have the personnel to do so, with more luck the small positive goal difference achieved might be larger. That is something of a concern; who scores if van Persie doesn’t? Gervinho is being targetted as that man and whilst there is an element of bad finishing, there is also bad luck. Perhaps he is trying too hard?
The equaliser at Carrow Road might have been his, an air flick of the heels allowed the ball to come through to van Persie. Ruddy saved well having been beaten whilst a late Hummels tackle denied him against Dortmund. He is not shy of shooting, perhaps not shooting early enough is the problem? Whatever the case, the manager rates his contribution,
At the moment Gervinho is a fantastic provider and he creates space for the other players because he always goes behind [the defence]. The problem with Gervinho is he is in the opposite position of Robin van Persie. He is desperate for a goal and once you are in that situation… well, you could see the other night he had the chance to score but he started to think.
That’s the answer: don’t think. Which if he is the archetypal footballer, shouldn’t be too hard and marks him out well for a broadcasting career when he retires.
So to this evening’s team. Options in defence are limited with Djourou and Squillaci the real options for change. Those two however, may be the experience saved for the visit of Manchester City in the Carling Cup. Perhaps the former for Koscielny at right back if Wenger decides he wants a strong central partnership in midweek. Ramsey in midfield might make way for Benayoun or Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arshavin must be chomping at the bit to take a place in the starting line-up. All of the Gervinho talk makes me wonder if he is being primed for a rest. Park and Chamakh may have to wait; the temptation might be there to make changes but Wenger is likely to make no more than two or three. I expect the line-up to be:
Szczesny; Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos; Arteta, Song, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Walcott, van Persie, Arshavin
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.