Unfortunately for Arsenal, the club doesn’t control its own fate in the Premier League any longer this season. Their 0-0 draw at home against Everton on Tuesday saw to this. With Chelsea sitting in third place with 61 points and six games to go and Spurs in fifth place with 58 points and also half a dozen matches remaining, Arsenal is on the outside looking in with 60 points and just five contests to go.
If all three London teams won all of their remaining games it means Arsenal can’t finish in the top four. Of course, that can’t happen and the possible saving grace for the club is the fact that Chelsea and Tottenham have to play each other and somebody obviously has to drop points. However, if Tottenham win their remaining games, including beating Chelsea, and Chelsea win all their games except for the Spurs match, then Arsenal can’t finish in the top four.
If they are going to win their remaining games, Arsenal has to pull off a victory at Craven Cottage on Saturday April 20 when they meet Fulham in a London derby. Chelsea just thumped them 3-0 on Wednesday and Fulham might mistakenly feel they’re safe from relegation. However, they’re not. They sit in 10thplace in the table with 40 points and while it’s a good bet they’re safe, they can still be caught as Wigan is nine points behind and has six matches remaining to Fulham’s five.
It’s never a good time to play a team after they’ve just been embarrassed at home, so expect Fulham, winless in their last three, to come out and at least put some type of decent effort into this showdown. Arsenal’s lost just once in their past 11 league matches, but they can’t take anything for granted here. They’ll need to play a lot better than they did against Everton to be sure of all three points. The last meeting between these rivals ended in a 3-3 draw in November at the Emirates.
Arsenal built up a 2-0 lead on goals by Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, but Dimitar Berbatov banged in a pair and Alexander Kacaniklic put Fulham up 3-2. Giroud scored again to level the game and Mikel Arteta had a chance to win it with almost the last kick of the game with a penalty. However, Fulham’s veteran keeper Mark Schwarzer saved the shot.
It looks like Polish international keeper Wojciech Szczesny will start his second match in a row between the posts since his fellow countryman Lukasz Fabianski is suffering from a rib injury. The team will also be without midfielder Abou Diaby as he’s been ruled out for the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear.
Martin Jol’s Fulham side might be without Irish winger Damien Duff again as he has a strained abductor. It looks like Mahamadou Diarra will also miss the match due to an injured knee, but Steve Sidwell should be back in the squad after sitting out three games with a suspension.
Hopefully Fabianski won’t be out for too long, but Wenger isn’t sure when he’ll be able to return to action. Fabianski recently took over the number one keeper job and has be3en playing well. He put together clean sheets at Bayern Munich in the Champions League as well as in a win at Swansea. He sat out the match against Everton this week and the 23-year-old Szczesny earned a clean sheet, but wasn’t really tested during the 90 minutes.
According to Wenger, Fabianski is day to day. The manager said, “Fabianski has a crack in his rib that has not moved, so we have to treat it clinically.” Szczesny has been inconsistent this season and his father blasted Wenger in the press when he was relegated to the bench for several games as Fabianski took over. Wenger was pleased with his performance against Everton though and stated, “He had a good performance, and I was pleased with his focus, with his sharpness. He dealt well with the situation that he faced. In our job there is only one way to respond, to practice harder and stronger and show that you are ready for a fight. That is what he did.”
This is no time to rotate the squad and experiment, so Wenger needs to go with his best 11 for the remaining games and hope Arsenal can take all 15 points. Chelsea or Tottenham have to slip up when they meet each other on May 8 and the Gunners need to pounce on their chance if those team should happen to drop more points along the way. They won’t be able to do this without all three points at Craven Cottage on Saturday though, so that makes this the biggest match of the season so far. And that can be said about all of the remaining games while they’re still mathematically in the equation for a top-four finish.