After the draw against Everton in midweek our margin for error has tightened, and there’s little room for a slip up today.
Three points are a necessity against Fulham but it looks as if we’re going into the game in decent shape, injury wise. Only Lukasz Fabianski is definitely ruled out, although there’s a doubt about Tomas Rosicky’s hamstring. The manager has some decisions to make about the line-up today, and while I think Monreal coming in for Gibbs is likely, and not terribly taxing, it’s what to do further up the pitch that’ll give him pause for thought.
After two relatively ineffectual performances, does he stick with Jack Wilshere and hope the cobwebs have been blown off? The same for Theo Walcott – he had a quiet game against Everton but it was his first start for over a month since picking up an injury while away with England. In the meantime Gervinho has played quite well and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks to have shed the second season syndrome that had been affecting his game.
There’s also Lukas Podolski looking for a start so there’s plenty for Arsene to think about. I’d like to see the German start today on the left, moving Cazorla back into midfield with Ramsey and Arteta, and I’d be very tempted to give the Ox a go on the right hand side, leaving Gervinho, Wilshere and Walcott as weapons late on. That’s just me, however, it’s difficult to second guess the boss on this one, and he might feel that in a tight game, Podolski could be a better option from the bench if the pace and direct running of the other two aren’t effective up to that point.
I was a little afraid on Tuesday that we might lose the game trying to win it, pushing men forward and getting caught out, so although we didn’t score there’s encouragement to be taken from the clean sheet. It means the defensive focus is still there, and we’ll need it today against a team that scored three when we played them at our place. Having gone 2-0 up we let them get 3-2 ahead, before Giroud equalised. It was a display which highlighted the carelessness of our defending at that point in the season; it took worse results and performances before we addressed it properly but hopefully it’s something we’ll continue today.
The key will be to take the chances we make. We had been a little more efficient in front of goal which meant that some of the attacking verve lost by our increased discipline wasn’t that costly, but against Everton it meant two points dropped. Laurent Koscielny has backed Olivier Giroud to bounce back today, but the Frenchman isn’t the only one allowed score. Mikel Arteta might have used his left foot late on when he had a clear sight of goal, and there are others in the team who could do with a goal or two.
It is a derby and you always expect a game in London to be difficult. We have put a fantastic run together ourselves. We want to continue that. After the Tottenham game I told you we had no room to drop points and that’s where we are now. The only way for us to deal with it is to focus the way we did against Everton and come out with a strong performance. After all, that is what we have done recently in every single game.
Let’s not forget that it’s 16 points from 18 in recent weeks, we have been on a good run and the disappointment at points dropped against Everton are a sign that winning becomes a very nice habit, very quickly. We can hope for Fulham to be a bit slack as a mid-table season draw to a close, but they’ll want to respond at home after being thumped in midweek by Chelsea.
Ultimately it will come down to our performance. Maintaining the higher standards we’ve reached since the Bayern game should be enough but any lapses will prove dangerous. They have decent players, and attackers who can hurt us if we let them, so we’ve got to be fully focused today. Fingers crossed.
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Time for some breakfast, catch you all later for the game.
Come on you reds.