Sunday, December 10, 2023

Fulham preview : Europa League draw : Arteta on transfers

There don’t appear to be any injury concerns for Mikel Arteta ahead of today’s encounter with Fulham, so we may well see an unchanged side again after the convincing win and performance against Bournemouth.

That said, with Aston Villa in midweek and a trip to Man Utd next Sunday, two home games are a good opportunity for one or two small changes if the manager wants to get certain players more involved and boost their match fitness. Quite what those changes might be is hard to say, because everyone has played so well, but I’m sure he’s made it clear to his players that the issue of rotation this season is an important one. If you don’t play, it’s not punishment, it’s about doing the best thing for the team for each match.

After three wins, you have to look at today’s game as another good chance to take three points, but as Fulham showed against Liverpool, if you let your standards slip against them, they can hurt you. The big danger, of course, comes from Aleksandar Mitrovic who has scored powerful headers against Liverpool and Brentford so far this season. The Arsenal back-line is tall one these days, so it’s not as if he’ll latch onto some kind of tiny full back to try his luck, but he’s still a threat we have to be mindful of.

How Fulham have played this season might well suit us too. They haven’t done what some newly promoted teams have done by parking the bus, and assuming we can find our level that could provide space for our attacking talent to do their thing. It will be all eyes on Gabriel Jesus again, but ably supported by Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard – assuming there are no changes in that area of the pitch.

Mikel Arteta says of today’s opposition:

A really tough match. They’ve been on an incredible run – last year in the Championship they did extremely well, and they haven’t lost a game yet in the Premier League and they’ve played against three very difficult opponents, so credit to them. I think it will be a difficult game.

And his own team:

The mood is really good, and the energy is really good. The boys have trained exceptionally well this week again, and we just have to put in another good performance and earn the right to win.

What else is there to say? The atmosphere should be good, there’s a level of expectation that is building – and that’s definitely something we have to be aware of – but if Arsenal can play the way they did against Leicester and Bournemouth, we have a great chance of extending the 100% start to the season.

Fingers crossed.

Elsewhere, the draw for the group stages of the Europa League took place yesterday, and we’ll be facing PSV Eindhoven, Bodo/Glimt and FC Zurich. The only team we’ve ever played before in European competition is PSV, so it’ll be our first time against the others, and while it might have been a slightly easier draw this is the period of the season where how well Mikel Arteta uses his players will be so important.

October in particular is going to test the limits of the squad. Look at this.

October 1st: Sp*rs (H)

October 6th: Europa League

October 9th: Liverpool (H)

October 13th: Europa League

October 16th: Leeds (A)

October 20th: Man City (H)

October 23rd: Southampton (A)

October 27th: Europa League

October 30th: Nottingham Forest (H)

Except fatigue, expect some injuries, expect some fluctuations in performance. Those things are inevitable, and not just for us, for all the teams in Europe playing in a season where matches are being squeezed in before a winter World Cup. How well we deal with those things will go some way to defining the first half of this season, not least because there are big games in that bunch too against sides who we’ll hopefully be fighting with for the top four (hopefully not that lot because clearly I wish them nothing but misery forever, but chances are they’ll be there or thereabouts).

Lots to look forward to!

With a few days left of the transfer window, Arteta spoke about possible departures:

There are still a few players that we are having discussions with about their futures, and we’ll try to find the best solutions for all parties.

And on possible incomings, the departure of Nicolas Pepe was something that had been part of the plan this summer, but whether it means a new player coming in, we have to wait and see.

If we can implement the plan that we have, we will try to do that. In the plan, that [Pepe’s loan move] was something that could happen – now it’s a reality and we’ve been preparing the last two months in order to achieve what we want. Whether that’s possible or not, we will see.

To be fair, Arteta made it very clear last weekend after Bournemouth that he wanted ‘more firepower‘ before the end of the transfer window, but in what shape that will come – if it comes – remains to be seen. Fingers crossed. I like the squad we have, but another little boost before 11pm on September 1st would be very welcome.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. As ever you can join us for live blog coverage of the game later, and all the post-match stuff on Arseblog News. There’s a preview podcast over on Patreon right now too.

Catch you later for the game.

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