Fulham preview – Gervinho, Arshavin, Santos and more

Premier League action later today as we take on Fulham at the Grove.

Regardless of who has been in charge over the last few years this has generally been a pretty tight affair. Ok, there’s been an away 3-0 and a home 4-0 in recent years but they’ve been tough to break down and when we talk about goalkeepers having one of those game Schwarzer has done that more than once against us.

In terms of the team news Tomas Rosicky could be back in the squad and the while the manager is obviously going to rotate for the Carling Cup, I don’t know that there’ll be too many changes today. I had thought that maybe he’d give Gervinho a rest, providing an opportunity for Benayoun or more likely Arshavin, but given the coverage the Ivorian got in the press this morning I think he’ll play.

Arsene has been talking up the new boy and the contribution he’s made this season. And while aware of his shortcomings in front of goal isn’t too worried about them just yet:

I think he is one of the best signings in the league so far. Gervinho is a fantastic provider, but he also creates space for the other players because he always goes behind defenders.

The problem with Gervinho is that he is in the opposite position of Robin van Persie. He is desperate for a goal and it’s difficult once you are in that situation. For a long time you don’t talk about it, but at some stage you have to say, ‘Don’t worry – try to be natural.’ I spoke to him today about that, but he is not obsessed with scoring goals. It will come.

His finishing has certainly left something to be desired, in the last two games in particular, but in general I think he’s done well since his arrival. Ok, there was that unfortunate incident with football’s biggest Kant which set back his acclimatisation a little bit but since then I think he’s really added something to the team. There have been crucial assists, he’s got a decent connection with van Persie, and he definitely gives the team more balance. Which, given we’re currently playing a left back who is also getting to grips with English football and a new way of playing, is really very important indeed.

If he can gain a little composure in front of goal (what value a few lessons on the training ground from a Mr Henry?) while continuing to develop the rest of his game then it augurs well for the future. He is only 4 months into his career in England and like it or not it does take a bit of time to get used to things. For me though, having somebody with his pace over 3-4 yards when we constantly play teams who try deny us space is a great asset – and will be better once we, and he, learn to make the best use of it.

So, with that in mind I reckon today’s team is going to unchanged from the one which started against Dortmund. It is, at the moment, our strongest team, one with good partnerships and a good understanding all over the pitch, and while we can take the foot off a bit in Europe (so to speak) the Premier League remains the bread and butter and we’ve got to take three points today.

I really haven’t seen Fulham much under their new manager so I don’t know what to expect from them. Under Hodgson it was a well organised but occasionally brittle side, under Mark Hughes it was a bunch of cunts, and with Martin Jol’s pedigree I can only imagine it’s much the same. They’ll work hard and they have players who can cause us problems but fingers crossed we can keep the momentum going.

In other news the manager has challenged the players on the fringes, especially those in the attacking areas of the pitch, to show their worth when called upon. Arshavin finds himself on the sidelines because of the form of the aforementioned Gervinho, while Park and Chamakh haven’t a hope of playing an important game as long as van Persie remains fit and in form. But the season is long and the boss wants them to be ready when needed:

It will be up to them to show they can take the relay when needed because the season is long and we play in many competitions, hopefully for a long time. Everybody will get a chance.

And on Arshavin in particular:

He’s not a back-up player but at the moment he doesn’t play. Maybe he will play on Saturday. I feel sorry for every player who doesn’t play but it is part of our job. Competition is part of our job and you must accept that in some periods of your career somebody can get in front of you.

It’s telling that Arshavin’s last start in the Premier League was that away day in Blackburn, since then he’s been warming the bench domestically, but obviously the manager is trying to get the little pudding motivated. There’s a very busy schedule coming up, there’s the Christmas glut of games, and then Gervinho goes off to the ACN so there’ll be plenty of chances for Arshavin to show what he can do.

Yet as much as I like him as a character it’s hard not to be disappointed with his contribution to the team in recent times. Whether he’s unable to handle being just another player rather than the main man in a team which does all the work for him, or if it’s something else, we can only speculate, but it would be fair to say he hasn’t made the most of his obvious talent during his time here. It’d be nice, but also a bit of a surprise, to see him come up with the goods on a consistent basis if given the opportunity.

There’s an interesting interview with Andre Santos in the Express today. Most of us look at him as a fun guy, certainly he’s got a comedic outlook on defending at times, and that’s reflected in some bits:

I like watching any football and sport on the television, but I also like Strictly Come Dancing.

Heh, but it’s also good to hear him talk seriously about his football and how he dealt with what was, let’s face it, an atrocious first half against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (remember, the game where John Terry fell over? On his face? Yeah, that one):

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’.

And he did, and has done since. Again we need to talk a bit about adaptation, a new country, living in a hotel for the first month, and with a new baby in the Santos household there’s been plenty for him to get to grips with, but he’s getting the love from the fans not just because he’s a character but because he’s a good footballer and hopefully he’ll continue to show that.

Finally for today, a great By The Numbers by 7amkickoff over on Arseblog News. This time not focused on a match but Robin van Persie v Thierry Henry. Great stuff.

And that’s just about that, plenty for a Saturday morning. As usual there’ll be full live blog coverage of the game later on. You can follow the game with up to the second text commentary right here. As well as that you can get £50 free bet with Paddy Power who also have a money back special for this game:

If Robin van Persie scores the first goal in this game Paddy Power will refund all losing 1st/last goalscorer, correct score & scorecast singles on the match.

Click here to register with Paddy Power.

Until later, live blog post and details should go up around 4.30. Have a good Saturday in the meantime.

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