Fulham vs Arsenal (Craven Cottage k.o. 5.30pm)
Last season, Arsenal struggled at home in their opening league game of the campaign. The next weekend, they travelled to Blackburn and threw away two points courtesy of Jens Lehmann. This first game of this new season has taken the same shape; let’s hope the same thing does not happen in the second. Like that draw, this game is away but on paper, going to Craven Cottage is a far easier task than going to Ewood Park has been in the past few seasons.
While the season is fresh, Arsenal must be careful in all the games. No game is straightforward at this stage. If you throw in a large handful of key injuries, this game is a potential banana skin. Cast your minds back, if you will, to two seasons ago. Arsene Wenger took his side to Craven Cottage with a few injuries. Most Gooners were still confident of a victory as Fulham have generally been swept aside under Wenger. That night however, Fulham came out of the blocks like rabbits on speed and beat us within 20 minutes. We cannot afford that this time around.
With Manchester United dropping points in the first game, it is an early chance to take a small stride ahead of them. The season is a marathon, not a sprint but every little helps! With Ronaldo out for up to two months, Tevez back home in Argentina, and Rooney showing why he is hugely overrated, United could be in trouble during the first few months. If we can keep winning, it could cause United to be up against it from the very off. Our injured players are due back soon but if we can keep the victories ticking over until then, our squad should be at its best come the busy end to the calendar year.
It is a chance for the squad players to lay down their claim. Our squad has size to it; many doubt its experience and quality. We have all seen Chelsea storm to their first victory under Scolari and, there is no point hiding from it, it was bloody scary! To see Chelsea playing fluid, attacking football was very scary. We know of their strength at the back, now they might be adding to it with some added potency going forward. It is time for our young squad to prove that they are up for the challenge; there is no better way to do this when first team regulars are in the physic room.
It is Almunia’s job to assure that we have no second week calamities from our goalkeeper. At the moment, our defence seems like it will grant the opposition at least one guilt-edge chance in each game. When our full backs push on, they become wingers and this leaves the two centre backs isolated to the long ball. Clichy and Sagna are not in position to come round on the cover. The long ball is something our defenders seem afraid to attack. Djourou improved this during the W.B.A match, but it must happen every time.
If Toure is fit I assume he will come back in and with a little communication, Gallas and Kolo can make a better attempt at dealing with the long ball. Neither of them takes responsibility for the first ball. They are both players who react in favour of the second ball and this causes problems for us. If one of them steps up and is brave enough to attack the first ball, we will improve so much in the defensive part of the field. Strikers are too easily able to bring the ball down and initiate moves towards our goal. If Toure or Gallas attacks the ball then they will win some and often cause the attacker to misplace a header or miscontrol the ball.
Clichy and Tomas Rosicky formed a good partnership last season. With Rosicky out for at least another month, it seems Wenger is willing to throw Nasri straight into the mix. Like Sagna, he seems to have settled in very quickly. I hope the ‘injury’ that ruled him out of France’s friendly was a precaution and a message to Domenech. Nasri was only picked as a replacement for an earlier withdrawal, he has recently been injured and Domenech has a history of playing Arsenal players for the full 90 minutes, against Wenger’s wishes. These are three good reasons for Wenger to withdraw Nasri from the squad. As long as I see him in the team for Saturday, I do not care what the reason was to be honest. Nasri was the only bright spark last Saturday and hopefully he can kick right on.
Theo Walcott needs to step up and NOW. Wenger has given him his chance and the fans want him to succeed more than anyone else. He has shown the talent on occasion, now it must become a regular thing from Theo. He must use his pace when he has the ball, not just when he’s looking for space to receive it. Wenger has put him in ahead of Eboue but he seemed to have picked up a few of Emmanuel’s tricks. Teams like Fulham are not known for their pace and Walcott must used it to his advantage. His pace can open up teams and cause them so many problems; if only he’d trust himself more.
When I saw Eboue in central midfield on Saturday, I questioned whether Wenger had gone senile. Eboue was an awful right midfield player; what made him think he’d make a good holding midfield player. To his credit, when he kept it simple he did things well. He did make my heart race at times with some stupid back-heels but generally he was ok. One thing he must sort out is his shooting. I have never heard a crown shout “NO!!!!” when an Arsenal player wanted take a shot from 20 yards out; normally they are demanding a shot from 40 yards out from the left touchline! If Wenger plays Eboue there once more, I am prepared to give him a chance until he messes up, surely a catastrophe is not far away when Eboue’s around.
Unless Cesc is back, Denilson will play alongside Eboue once again. Denilson played very well in pre season and did ok last weekend. He was pivotal in the goal but faded second half. He is really laying down a claim for the place alongside Cesc and he is doing himself no harm. He must continue to break from midfield. Defenders hate midfield runners as they have no idea who to pick up. Denilson’s runs have been timed to perfection of late and he has looked so sharp in his assist making.
With so many players our injured, we are lucky to still have Adebayor and Van Persie; with Robin I don’t know how long it will last. In these two we have goals, goals, goals. Adebayor was poor at the Emirates last Saturday but having signed a new contract, he will be looking to prove to the fans, his team mates and his manager that his heart is in it and he’ worth £80,000 per week. He got two goals at Fulham last season, a repeat would be nice. We saw Van Persie’s ability to make something happen in a split second when he received a pass from Ade against W.B.A. With his back to goal and three defenders behind him; he had turned and got a shot of before the defenders could react. This is the clinical edge we miss when Robin is out; now he must keep fit and start scoring again.
Subs: Fabianski, Djourou, SILVERSTRE, Ramsey, Wilshere, Vela, Bendtner
Now I have noted the subs, I guess it is my chance to comment on the Silvestre issue. I will keep it brief as there has been many a view on it. I am worried. We have signed a Man Utd reject. Why is he good enough for us if he cannot play for United? The only advantage is Wenger’s track record with French players. Silvestre’s experience is undoubted but have his injuries taken their toll? He can cover both centre back, and left back which is what many fans wanted. I would have liked some in the 27 year old bracket. I do not see him as a better player than Gallas, Toure, Senderos and Djourou. He does not attack the first ball which is a quality I would want if we were buying a new centre back. I guess we have to be patient to see how it works.
If Arsenal get an early lead tomorrow, I can see a scoreline along the lines of 2-1 or 3-1 to the Arsenal.