Fulham preview – do we risk Robin?

Once more into the breach and our first game of 2012 sees us travel to Fulham.

Coming so soon after the exertions against QPR changes would seem to be inevitable, but I wonder. At the back we have to find a solution to the left back issue after Thomas Vermaelen’s calf strain. Many would suggest Ignasi Miquel but given how well he did coming on against QPR I wouldn’t be surprised to see Francis Coquelin start there. Either way, it’s another enforced change to our back four and while it would be nice to be able to play a settled unit for a few games in a row all we can do is get on with it.

There are obvious candidates to come in and give the midfield and wide players a rest. Rosicky and Benayoun might fancy they’d get a start but I just wonder with a full week off until the Leeds FA Cup game (annoyingly on a Monday evening too) if the manager might be tempted to stick with the team that played at the weekend.

Walcott only played an hour, Gervinho’s off to Africa soon so we might as well use him until he’s tired out, Song and Ramsey have both had a game off recently for differing reasons (although Ramsey did come on against Wolves), while Arteta’s understated importance to this side means he’s almost impossible to rest for an important game like this. And then we come to Robin van Persie.

I guess the decision will be made having looked closely at his physical, rather than football, form. In terms of the latter there’s simply no way you can leave him out. Fulham will be tough and, like it or not, Robin is the player who can make the difference between one point and all three. All the same, we have to be mindful of that importance and our need to keep him fit and healthy for as long as possible this season.

So if van Persie doesn’t start today it won’t be because the manager thinks Chamakh – his obvious/only – replacement can do a better job. It’ll be because starting the captain would be a risk to his fitness. The fabled ‘red zone’ will be in play and we’ve got to be sensible because he is our only effective centre-forward. Yes, we can go over again and again why that is but it doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

I guess it all boils down to how Robin is feeling and how serious any of the aches and strains he’s bound to be feeling are. Does the manager take the risk or does he hope that the law of averages kicks in with Chamakh. After floundering for so long surely he’s due a good game? If only it were that simple. The manager is expecting a difficult evening coming just a few weeks after a 1-1 draw at home against today’s opponents:

It will be tough again this time. You can see that everyone finds motivation against Arsenal, everyone organises well and stops us from playing. That will happen again at Fulham.

But, after the three points against QPR, we will be very focused to get the win there.

Between today and Wednesday there is a full Premier League round this week and after what was a fantastic weekend for us we’ve got to make sure we keep the momentum going. The two home games against Wolves and QPR saw us dominate and create a lot of goalscoring chances. I don’t think we’ll create anywhere near as many today so we’ve got to be more efficient when it comes to our finishing.

People might look at Walcott and Gervinho’s recent misses and expect better from them, and that’s fair enough, but even Robin has failed to take a few chances you would normally expect him to score. That’s said without criticism, by the way, his form and his goalscoring record this year allows him a lot of leeway – but in games like the one we face today I don’t know that we can miss too many and still hope to win. Fingers crossed we can draw on the spirit and character this team has shown to climb the table in recent months, one big push before what’s likely to be a more relaxed affair in the FA Cup next week.

In other news Robin has spoken about the imminent return of Thierry Henry, saying:

It is fantastic. He is unbelievable, even in training. He had a couple of sessions and – I don’t want to put too much pressure on him – but he is looking right up there. He is looking very good. He knows when to drop, he knows when to make a one-two. He knows all these things. I am looking forward to it so much.

Which is great to hear and is, perhaps, another illustration of the maturity of the Dutchman. It’s not as if they ever had any kind of falling out but it would be fair to say that the two didn’t always see eye to eye in the past. This had more to do with van Persie’s refusal to be affected by Thierry’s big personality when other players (don’t need to name names, do I?) felt themselves wither under the Gallic glare.

Robin has always been very much his own man and is now the senior player at the club in the same way Henry was in his final season or two. I suspect, as well, that the former captain has mellowed as he heads to the twilight of his career and while the footballing side of things is the most relevant aspect to all this, there’s certainly something interesting about this meshing of Arsenal old and new.

Finally, with the transfer window well and truly open now I suspect it’s only the weekend’s festivities that have prevented every player in history being linked with us. The new year is well and truly underway now so I’m expecting news of ‘sensational swoops’ and many ‘battles’ with other clubs who don’t want to buy the same player we have no intention of buying either. Good times, good times.

And that’s yer lot. You can follow the Fulham game later on with the live blog. Check back later on for the liveblog post or bookmark the default liveblog page. And as usual we’ve teamed up with Paddy Power to give you up to a £50 free bet – simply click here to register with Paddy Power.

Until then.

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