We return to Premier League action today when we face Fulham at the Emirates.
I think back to playing them on the opening day of the season, and the kind of expectation it set. We won comfortably, played well, scored three goals, and kept a clean sheet. We saw Willian make his competitive debut and get two assists, and even those of us that had doubts over the length of his deal were encouraged by what he did that day. Little did we know etc etc.
Fulham have improved since, but they still sit 7 points from safety with 6 games to play, so we know for sure today that they will be fighting for Premier League survival. Mikel Arteta says:
“Obviously, they want to maintain the club in the Premier League. In my opinion, they’ve been really unlucky with some results. I started to watch them a few days back and I really like the way Scott sets his team up.
“It’s really brave, they know what to do really well and again I think they’ve had some very unfair results that could have put their team in a different position. They’re going to come here to do what they always do and it will be difficult.”
The question today is what the manager does with his team. After a 4-0 win, and with our next game on Friday, there must be a reasonable temptation to more or less stick with what has worked against Slavia Prague and Sheffield United. There may be a change or two because of some tiredness/fatigue, but if it was basically the same, would anyone complain?
Without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Martin Odegaard, there’s not a lot you should change at the top end of the pitch – although we could all make a case for trying to squeeze Gabriel Martinelli in there (maybe even at centre-forward?). At the back, there’s room for Hector Bellerin, Gabriel, even Cedric at left back, but it was interesting last week to hear Arteta talk about how one of the issues this season has been the inability to keep consistency of selection in the back four. After two clean sheets, even if you want to give some players minutes to keep them fresh, can you make three (potential) changes and expect to keep that level of solidity?
Momentum is one of football’s great intangibles, but it is useful. We can’t measure confidence and belief, but we can say for sure is that every poor result or indifferent performance generates levels of introspection that are off the charts. This season we’ve swung wildly from good to bad and everywhere inbetween. Our longest ‘run’ of successive wins has been three, and beating Fulham today would match that. We obviously need to improve on it, make it four, make it five, then six etc, so while Premier League points aren’t as critical as they should be, there’s a benefit for when we’re going into the European games too. Also, the Premier League points are still important.
Obviously the Europa League is the competition which provides a chance of success this season, but this game still matters. You can put all your eggs in the European basket, but it doesn’t mean you can just sack off fixtures like this one. Nobody is going to say ‘Oh well, let’s not worry about it’ if today doesn’t go well, that’s just not how it works. So, I suspect Arteta will make a couple of changes, perhaps, but it’ll be more or less the same team which has won the last two, scored seven goals and conceded none. And why not?
Non-football, but still very Arsenal, our friends at the Tollington could use your help.
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If you can sign the petition, please do. Martin and Louise have been so amazing to us down the years, we launched both our books there and the events wouldn’t have been half as successful – and half as much fun – without them. It’s also a big part of the match-day ritual for so many Arsenal fans, local and otherwise, so even if you’re not in the UK, feel free to lend your support.
It only takes a minute, and please spread the word to as many of your fellow Gooners as possible.
Right, that’s it. We’ll have a live blog for you, of course, and all the game related stuff on Arseblog News. There’s still time to catch the preview pod on Patreon, and I’ll see you later for the game.