Monday, December 11, 2023

Fulham preview: Will Jesus rise again today?

After a midweek European away game, a trip to Fulham isn’t the most taxing in terms of distance, but a London derby against a team doing very well this season is going to be a test.

Mikel Arteta was typically coy about who might be available. He was hopeful that Kieran Tierney and Martin Odegaard would make the squad after missing the Sporting game with illness. Subsequently, both players were see in the training pictures, so it’s reasonable to assume they’ll be there.

The big issue remains up front. In his pre-game interview with Sky, the manager seemed to confirm the absence of Eddie Nketiah and Leandro Trossard, and while optimistic about Gabriel Jesus making his return relatively soon, there was caution too.

“He had a bad injury and he’s been pushing the boundaries and trying to get the recovery as soon as possible.

“But the reality is when he’s started to do some activities, he’s feeling he needs a bit more time. Is that a matter of days? Hopefully yes, more than a matter of weeks!

“He needs to feel confident, and comfortable and ready for it – especially the way he plays. We need him at his best, so the moment he’s ready he’ll be thrown on the field.”

Will that moment be today? Possibly.

If it is, it certainly won’t be from the start. You imagine Gabriel Martinelli will continue up front, a role which might suit him on an away day against two central defenders whose key strengths are more aerial. We know Bukayo Saka will start outside him on the right, which leaves a decision to be made regarding the left side. Reiss Nelson played there in midweek, perhaps a reward for his heroics against Bournemouth, but also a decision informed by the management of Emile Smith Rowe’s minutes. Is ESR ready to start? He was brought on early last weekend, but subbed as a sub, so there might be a little way to go.

If Odegaard is well enough, he’d come back into the team for Fabio Vieira, Granit Xhaka’s experience and physicality will be needed for an away game, and Thomas Partey in for Jorginho is obvious too. I do wonder if we might see Takehiro Tomiyasu at right back today. He didn’t have a good game against Bournemouth, but was very good when he came at left back against Sporting, and his size/presence might be useful. Not to mention Ben White did the full 90 on Thursday and looked knackered by the end. Gabriel and Ramsdale will clearly come in for Kiwior and Turner.

As for Fulham, they’re having a very good season, and they can cause anyone problems. It took a very late goal for us to win it at home earlier in the season, and this one is basically a free hit for them at home. They’ve accumulated sufficient points already that they can have a real go today, and that’s something we need to be ready for.

After Sporting, Arteta bemoaned the number of sloppy goals we’ve conceded of late, so tightening up at the back would high on the priority list today. An interesting aspect of this team is the fact we have scored goals from all over. Tomiyasu is the only regular outfield player (bar the returning Smith Rowe) without a goal to his name this season, so while the focus will be on what the front players can produce, we have some threat elsewhere.

Let’s hope, after Man City’s win yesterday, we can respond like we normally have done this season, and ensure that gap remains five points at the end of the game.

Elsewhere, I enjoyed these comments from Arteta about celebrating moments such as the late winner against Bournemouth. There was talk of an FA investigation, thankfully that didn’t come to pass, and when asked if he had any concerns about the vigour with which his players enjoyed that win, said:

“None. If you win in football, you celebrate

“You want passion and emotion. There is nothing better than scoring goals and winning football matches. So if not, you go to church.”

Ar-teta, who art in heaven … etc etc. Fingers crossed we’re celebrating later this afternoon.

There’s a preview podcast waiting for you on Patreon right now if you haven’t already had a chance to listen, and as ever we’ll have live blog coverage of the game, and all the usual bits and bobs on Arseblog News.

Come on Arsenal!


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