When in November I did a survey of eight future matches, including my projection of their likely results, I thought both Fulham games would be difficult for Arsenal. Nonetheless, I thought Arsenal would win the first leg since they would play at home.
It turned out to be a frustrating match for the Gunners due largely to two factors: fatigue and a stubborn defensive organization from Fulham. Moreover, Fulham nearly ran away with victory after forcing an error from the Arsenal defense, an error that resulted in an own goal by Thomas Vermaelen.
However, Arsenal fought back in the last quarter of the game to force a draw, the equalizer coming ironically from the same Thomas Vermaelen.
In that November projection, the full list of which appears in the diagram below, I had Arsenal either drawing the second match or losing it.
Although saying this will not inspire warm feelings from Gooners or endear me to them, I came to this conclusion based first on the advantage of knowing what transpired in the corresponding fixtures last season.
In the first leg at the Emirates, Fulham proved stubbornly frustrating to Arsenal.
High class assists and the individual brilliance of Samir Nasri were required to give Arsenal the breakthrough in that match. Watch the highlights here. Be mindful though that they don't capture the difficulty or the frustration that Arsenal endured for long stretches in the match.
The return leg was Arsenal's last match of the reason. Arsenal required a victory to place third on the Premiership table to avoid the UEFA Champions League playoffs in the coming season, a 2-2 draw was all they could muster. In fact, they had their stars to thank for snatching the draw in the end.
The second factor, then, for my projection of a draw or a loss in today's match flowed from the first.
What becomes apparent from last season's matches—to which we now can add the first leg of this season's—is how organized and dangerous Fulham can be.
Their discipline and organization compensate for their lack of native talent. The danger they pose comes from the strength of Moussa Dembele, Bobby Zamora and Clint Dempsey. Between them, the three are capable of winning any match. (Dembele did not play in any of last season's matches.)
My projection of this match from the November survey wasn't therefore a result of a defeatist deposition; it was more of a rational and realistic consideration of factors available to me.
Since we know that only three results are possible from this match—a loss for Arsenal, a draw for the two teams or a victory to Arsenal, where the reverse is also true of Fulham—which is the likeliest of the three possibilities?
I give my answer in the following slides, starting with things to expect in the match.