Arsenal and Fulham are tied in the English Premier League table, and the two London clubs will fight to improve their position this weekend.
The Cottagers are likely more content than the Gunners with the results that have led each team to 15 points. Martin Jol’s side has had the occasional disappointment this season, but his counterpart on Saturday is under significantly more pressure.
Arsene Wenger has come under fire recently, and what was one of the Premiership’s safest jobs is not as stable anymore. These are the matches in which Wenger and Arsenal cannot afford to lose.
Here is everything you need to know about this fixture.
Where: Emirates Stadium, London, United Kingdom
When: Saturday, November 10, 10 a.m. ET
Watch: ESPN Deportes
Live Stream: ESPN3
Will Arsenal finish top-four this season?
Biggest Storyline: Can Arsenal Remain a Top-Four Team?
While the Gunners do not appear capable of challenging Chelsea and the Manchester clubs for a title, their ability to qualify for the Champions League next season is also in doubt.
Wenger has never allowed Arsenal to finish below fourth in the table, but the team has looked extremely shaky at times this season. Going forward, the team cannot afford to lose to mid-table teams like Fulham at home.
Player to Watch for Arsenal: Santi Cazorla
The Gunners desperately relied on Robin van Persie last season, and Santi Cazorla has stepped in to be the new centerpiece of the attack. He plays a different role than the departed striker, but is still vital to the team’s success.
His passing and scoring ability from an attacking central midfielder position have been exceptional this season, and if he is in top form, the Fulham defense stands little chance at keeping a clean sheet.
Player to Watch for Fulham: Dimitar Berbatov
Both the Gunners and Dimitar Berbatov had reason to be angry over van Persie’s move to Manchester United, but the Bulgarian forward appears to be doing a much better job of moving on. After leaving the Red Devils—who constantly left him on the bench—he has been in excellent form for Fulham.
He has three goals and two assists in six league appearances for the Cottagers and has breathed new life into their attack. If he continues playing at a high level, the often out of sorts Arsenal defense will not be able to keep him off the score sheet.
Key Matchup: Battle for the Center of the Pitch
Arsenal has wonderfully creative players in the middle of the pitch, even with Jack Wilshere missing the match due to a red card against Manchester United. Cazorla will still have Mikel Arteta with him in the center, and these players are capable of producing incredible passes.
But the men in the middle for Fulham are pesky and determined. As WhoScored.com notes, the Cottagers lead the Premiership with 18.7 interceptions per match. Chris Baird and Mahamadou Diarra, the club’s central midfielders, lead the team in interceptions and will make this match difficult for Arsenal’s playmakers.
What They’re Saying
ESPN’s Dan Fitch notes that Wenger has resigned himself to the fact that fourth place is the pinnacle of Arsenal’s hopes this season:
As Arsene Wenger has pointed out already this season, finishing fourth is now their cup final. To what purpose this never-ending cycle of Champions League qualification followed by a Barcelona-induced elimination amounts to is anyone's guess, but it seems to satisfy their manager if not their fans.
ESPN’s John Brewin discussed how a new role has suited Berbatov, and brings up a recent historical example to show why the striker’s new surroundings will continue to benefit him:
The lunchtime win for United against Arsenal was not the type of game that Berbatov was ever allowed to play in at his former club. Craven Cottage's sleepy surroundings, where he is relied upon far more, would seem to suit him better. He now reminds of Teddy Sheringham, a player never fully appreciated by United fans, but one who delighted at his various London homes. At the Cottage, flitting in and out and sprinkling liberal swathes of magic is more than acceptable.
Prediction: Arsenal 2, Fulham 1
Arsenal will not be able to keep a clean sheet in this match, but it will get forward enough to earn three points.