Friday, January 27, 2023

Fulham preview : kill that home hoodoo

Morning all and it’s back to league action with a home game against Fulham and normally there wouldn’t be such trepidation. Obviously all games are taken seriously but given our form at the Grove this season there’s probably a little more fear in the air than there would usually be.

Arsene has been trying to play down the issue of our home form saying it’s all down to how you play, whether at home or away. Which is all well and good but at home we’ve played like a pack of Carlton Palmers a bit too often and we’ve lost three games in the league already. I suspect he’s trying to play it down in the minds of the players lest they feel more pressure but there really is a problem. Psychological it may be but it’s real, you don’t just lose three home games in the league without there being something to it.

The team news is that Samir Nasri is fit, as it Sebastian Squillaci, while Cesc, Vermaelen, Diaby and Almunia remain out. It’s hard to know what kind of team he’s going to pick today. In the pre-game press conference he spoke about accommodating van Persie and Chamakh, saying:

We can play Chamakh and Van Persie together. We can play Chamakh up front and Van Persie behind. What is interesting is that we can play all kinds of formations with the two.

I don’t want to get bogged down with potential formations but it will be interesting to see how, and if, he plays them together. It’s hard to see Chamakh change his role too much. His effectiveness comes as the target man, who can hold it up, who can win headers etc, but van Persie, should he stay fit, has the quality to do more, perhaps operating in a free role just behind the Moroccan.

Players not involved on Tuesday like Arshavin and Rosicky are likely to be in contention too. If I had to guess I think he’ll keep Robin on the bench today and go with: Fabianski – Sagna – Squillaci – Koscielny – Clichy – Song – Wilshere – Rosicky – Arshavin – Chamakh – Nasri

There’s a bit of an extra edge to today’s game because of the history between Wenger and Mark Hughes and the Schwarzer saga that rumbled on for most of the summer. Fulham made their displeasure quite public, Schwarzer made it clear he wanted to join us, and in the end nobody got what they wanted. To be fair though it’s all worked out for the best, I reckon, but I’m fearful of the Australian having one of those ‘haha, you should have spent a bit more money on me’ games.

Fulham are looking to exploit our defensive weaknesses too, Hughes says:

At times, defensively, they have been caught out. We will use that as a positive. There is no doubt in my mind that we can create situations that will ask questions of them.

To me that means Fulham are going to be physical and Gael Clichy is going to be tested, perhaps with a left footed player like Damien Duff on the right to whip in crosses having been allowed come back inside on his good foot. And if our central defenders don’t keep an eye on guys like Hangeland and Clint Dempsey, the American Tim Cahill (without the face you want to set fire to), they could certainly get some joy from us. Koscielny was good against Villa but I do wonder if we might benefit from the extra height and physicality of Johan Djourou. Whatever happens we can’t say we weren’t warned.

With United’s game called off it’s another chance for us to go top of the league. Last time we had this chance at home we blew it spectacularly. We simply cannot afford to do that again. Fulham are a good side, we have to take them seriously, but if we perform then there’s no reason why we can’t take three points today. Last time we played them it was end of season fare and we beat them 4-0. There’s a lot more to play for today, for both sides.

In other news Arsene’s planning a career away from football as a stand-up comedian based on his comments about Robin van Persie:

I think that maybe he won’t be injured again now for one or two years I hope. He is not injury prone in my opinion, no.

It’s kinda deadpan humour, I like that. Arsene as the new Jack Dee. I suppose ‘injury prone’ could mean the kind of player who picks up the same kind of injury again and again. At least with Robin you get plenty of variety. I do think he’s been unlucky but the bottom line is the unlucky injuries are threatening to spoil what should be a fantastic career. I do hope he stays fit, I think if he does he can really prove his talent, but there aren’t odds good enough for me to put any money on it.

Lee Dixon on the Carling Cup campaign.

Final word to Arsene this morning on what lies ahead:

We want to take off now. This is where the race starts and we are in a good position to start the race. If you look at the fixture list – Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham – they all play each other this month. It is a defining moment in the season.

It could be a big week or so. A win today could send us top and we could stay there depending on the scoreline. Then we’ve got to book our place in the Champions League knock-out stages against Partizan on Wednesday, then it’s a trip to Old Trafford on Monday week. Daunting but entirely in our own hands.

As a wise man once said ‘the heat is on’. But this time it’s not on the street, it’s on the pitch. Can this team feel it? We shall see.

Three points today please. Come on Arsenal.

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