Morning Insiders, it’s the first league away day of the year but we’ve only got the short hop to Craven Cottage. Personally, I don’t like the 5.30pm kick off, we never seem to play well and it never feels quite right to me. Mikael Silvestre may have a part to play this evening although I think Djourou deserves to start. He’s looked the more confident and assured of our centre back paring. In preparation for the game I’ve been talking to Rich about things at Fulham and the game.
PGL – Last season you made a Lazarus like recovery to stay in the top flight, there have been plenty of comings and goings at Craven Cottage since then. Do you think your squad is stronger now?
Rich – It is, I’m sure of that. The players we’ve lost weren’t going to contribute, the players who have come in are much better, so yes, we must be better. Against that, everyone else’s squad seems to be stronger this year too, so we’ll just have to see.
PGL – Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson have both signed for Fulham. Are fans excited by these arrivals? How far up the table do you think they can fire you?
Rich – Well yes and no. Zamora’s a good player, but he’s not a sure thing and he wasn’t cheap. Same for Johnson, who’s cost a lot of money given his track record, which is good but not great… they’re more of a gamble than we’d expected I think and the jury’s still out. Did we need to spend all that? Especially when a centre-back and a ball winning midfielder were arguably more important.
But it’s silly to complain about buying two players who are better than anything else we had to play up front. They improve us, and they ought to score some goals. I think we’re aiming at the 12th to 16th slots, and I think that’s reasonable.
PGL – Roy Hodgson did a remarkable job last year but do Fulham fans believe he’s the man to take the club forward?
Rich – Absolutely. We lost at Hull on Saturday, which has some of us wondering if last season was some almighty fluke, but the fact is Roy did save us and he’s more than earned our trust. A very nice man it seems too, grandfatherly brilliant.
PGL – Saturday is the first of many London derbies. Our manager often says that this makes things more difficult on the clubs from the capital. Does the atmosphere at Craven Cottage change when another London club rolls in?
Rich – Not really. Our loud days are hard to predict in advance. Sometimes you get amazing atmospheres (as was the case when we beat you two seasons ago), sometimes it’s very dead (as was the case when you beat us last season). The club has these strange cardboard clappers now, which helped make noise during our great escape, but I have a feeling it’s all going to be a bit odd whacking them around at the first game of the season on Saturday.
PGL – How has it been watching the Chelsea revolution take place on your doorstep? The majority of Arsenal fans are worried by the prospect of foreign ownership, would you like to see overseas investment poured into Fulham?
Rich – Our Chairman is very well regarded and I don’t think we’d change him for the world. Chelsea? Look at them: Ashley Cole; John Terry; Frank Lampard… not much to envy as far as I’m concerned. At Fulham we’ve a beautiful old ground, a charming and humble manager, a couple of alright players and better support than we’re given credit for. I’m not really answering the question perhaps, but Chelsea are in a different world to us, and not a better one.
PGL – Our 2-1, last minute victory, at the start of last season seemed to set the tone for Fulham’s year. Why do Cottagers think you dropped so many points in the dying seconds of games?
Rich – Who knows? We just weren’t very good and eventually teams found a way through. Towards the end of the year we started to nab a few late goals ourselves. Roy must have changed something but overall I think we just got a bit better.
PGL – The media often criticise Arsenal for not coping when the opposition decides to be physical and “get in amongst them”, do you think Hodgson will employ this tactic on Saturday?
Rich – It seems unlikely. Our midfield quartet at Hull was Davies, Bullard, Murphy, Gera. All about 5’10, all slightly built, all bad at tackling. Hull, and George Boateng in particular, beat us up a bit. We all want Roy to bring in Leon Andreasen to toughen us up, but I don’t know that we’re expecting it. No, more likely we’ll try to play football against you. Which is a frightening thought.
PGL – Arsenal work the ball quickly, finding weak spots in the opposition back line, how do you think the Fulham defence will stand up to the test?
Rich – Again, it’s not really the defence I’m worried about. Teams defend as a unit these days, and our back four gets no protection from the midfield. So it could all get a bit out of hand if we can’t get close to your midfielders. Last year nobody could challenge Adebayor in the air but we have Hangeland now, so that should help.
PGL – And finally Rich, what’s your prediction for the game?
Rich – My heart says a spirited 2-2 draw, but my head has some awful scoreline in mind that I can’t bring myself to say. We just need to get out with some dignity I think.
So Insiders that’s Richs’ view of things, I think game will be won and lost across the middle. If Theo starts he’ll need to produce but I think we might see some surprises though. Nasri, Denilson, Kolo and Eboue across the middle? We could even see our all French back four play together for the first time? But as I said earlier I expect Djourou to keep his place. I’m going for 1-3 and I think we’ll see Ade open his account. One last thing Insiders, lets keep the booing aimed firmly at the opposition. Those of you who expressed your displeasure last weekend, your point has been made. Let it go, get behind the team… Arsenal ‘til we die.