Fulham vs. Arsenal: Complete Premier League Preview
It's difficult for Gunners fans to complain about four points out of six from games against Norwich and Everton. The latter have continued their typical late-season surge, and it was not surprising that they were very difficult opponents.
Nevertheless, every point is paramount in the race for the top-four "trophy." Arsenal are in fourth place, just one point behind Chelsea and two above Tottenham but with one more game played.
So there will obviously be quite a bit of spice for their trip to Craven Cottage this weekend.
Fulham, though, won't really feel any of the pressure that Arsenal will. Their 40 points are almost certainly enough to see them through another season above the relegation zone in the Barclays Premier League.
That can have one of two consequences for an Arsenal side that has much more to gain from the points on offer.
Perhaps Fulham will approach the game with a relative sense of apathy, having nothing in particular to gain from winning and thus succumbing to the underdog label all too easily.
More likely, though, the Cottagers will approach the match with the abandon of a team that has absolutely nothing to lose (see Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich and Arsenal vs. AC Milan). When a side with quality is willing to take risks it otherwise would not, games get unpredictable.
And let us not forget that Fulham are managed by the reputable Martin Jol, and their team features such talents as Bryan Ruiz, Urby Emanuelson (formerly of AC Milan) and Dimitar Berbatov. The latter has scored 13 goals in the Premier League this season.
Yet for the first time this season, Arsene Wenger is loaded with options in all areas of the pitch as he contemplates how to best set up his team.
He will probably stick with a back four of Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs following their strong displays, but Thomas Vermaelen, Carl Jenkinson and Nacho Monreal are all available if necessary.
Mikel Arteta will surely keep his place as the pivote, while Aaron Ramsey's impressive form should merit another start. That third midfield slot is the trickiest.
Wenger could go with Jack Wilshere, hoping that the Englishman is sharper than he has been in his first two games back from injury. Against Norwich and Everton, Wilshere looked like he was running through molasses, and his trademark technique deserted him.
Tomas Rosicky could take his place if he is fit enough. If Wenger is really ambitious, he could give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a start in midfield.
But the best option would be to move Santi Cazorla back to the middle and put Lukas Podolski back on the left wing, where he has impressed in recent substitute cameos.
That leaves Theo Walcott to start on the opposite flank and Olivier Giroud to assume his regular place at striker. Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gervinho could play on either wing also, but it is unlikely that Wenger will start them.
In other words, this will be a match that is exciting both before and after kickoff. If the reverse fixture is a predictor, we're in for a donnybrook.
At the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal and Fulham both squandered leads and Mikel Arteta missed a penalty in the fifth minute of stoppage time that would have won the game for the Gunners. The home side left bitterly disappointed with a 3-3 draw.
Based on that precedent, if nothing else, you should follow my live blog of the match, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. ET, 30 minutes before the 10:00 a.m. kickoff.
This looks to be a game worth getting up a little early for.
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