Writer: Galway Gooner
Date:Thursday January 16 2014
After coming through yet another non-test test we retook our rightful position at the top of the league. Having been on top pretty much since September and having to play anyone yet the last 17 games of the season should be very interesting as we must be playing all the top sides at least three times or more over the coming months. However, before we come to the really tough games we have a few that we really should be winning and arguably the easiest of the lot is this Saturday when we take on a free-falling Fulham at the Emirates.
The Villa game was an odd one in that they were so awful during the first half that we looked like we didn`t know exactly how to approach the second half. With hindsight it would have perhaps made more sense to push on for the third and try to land that killer blow but maybe Wenger saw the fixture pile up that is also called "March" and felt that if we could keep them at arms` length while conserving energy then all the better. Despite a lot of huffing and puffing from Villa and despite the goal we gifted them (lesson learned I hope Santi!) they never really had us under too much pressure. We seem to cope quite well with the 50-yard hoof ball that in seasons past brought us all out in a cold sweat.
You could argue that the Fulham game is one where we should be really looking to boost our goal difference but in all honestly I can`t see us clawing back the goal difference lead that City have on us in the remaining games, not with the way their playing. Offer me a few early goals in that form the base of a professional 2-0 win with no injuries and I`ll be a happy man come 5pm on Saturday. The position we are in now and the approach we take to games makes the professional win far more likely than a massacre but if ever there is a team that we could give a beating to it would be this Fulham side.
Their away form of late, and if we`ve honest, their overall form of late, has been pretty poor. A win at Norwich was their solitary victory in the past six away games, the other five ending in defeat. Goal wise they scored a paltry three goals and conceded a whopping twenty! Their home form, while better, doesn`t suggest that their away form is a made up of a freak series of results that buck the trend. I think come May, Fulham with the players they have will be delighted at being any place above 18th. Relegation, with the relatively small fan base they have and the age profile of their squad (a lot of them on either on or approaching the wrong side of thirty) would be a disaster that could take them years to recover from.
Anyway, style wise they play a rather compact 4-2-3-1- type formation with a right and left back that are given far too much licence to roam forward. Two defensive or competitive type players sit in front of the back line and then three midfielders try to support what is nearly always the sole lone front man. Stekelburg in goal has been less than impressive for me. I had heard good things about him and there were even rumours of us being interested in seasons past (Frey anyone?). For an international keeper and one who has played at a decent level all his career, I don`t think he commands the box enough. He`s big enough to do so but seems to have been pretty much playing on auto-pilot since he came to England. Their back two have chopped and changed an awful lot and maybe that`s a reason for the amount of goals that they are leaking but we`re likely to see two of Amorebieta, Hughes and our old pal Senderos. Halgeland, another played we`ve been heavily linked to in the past , returned from injury in the midweek cup victory over Norwich but maybe two games in four days may be too much for him. Hangeland does bring some stability and much needed
calmness to the defence but his pace, never his strong point starting off, has seriously declined over the past two seasons and he`s not the defender he once was. Either side of the back two will be Reither on the right, and maybe Rise or possibly Richardson on the left. I`m not sure about Riese`s fitness as he was carrying a knock but I`d expect him to get the nod above Richardson (more naturally a winger) if both are fit. The strange thing with Fulham is that whatever back five they pick are all experienced and proven internationals and while none of them are superstars they are all solid pros and should be able to defend but a simply appalling 46 goals against in 21 games (that`s 11 goals worse than Norwich, the next worst defence) says that they are not. They`ve recently changed their manager having done away with poor old Jol in quite odd circumstances but it doesn`t seem to have made any difference.
If front of the back line Parker and Sidwell will both sit, looking to pretty much kick anything in a red shirt. Quite amazing that the limited Parker actually won an award for PL Player of the Year in a team that got relegated, he`s a very average player who likes to run around a lot and he has a history of kicking Arsenal players. Football wise I wouldn`t worry about him, his best days (whenever they were) are long in the past, so I just hope he doesn`t end up injuring someone as he tries to keep his frustrations in check chasing shadows. Sidwell beside him is almost just as bad, a player that I used to like (had a bit of skill and liked to play the ball on the ground) to one who now relies more and more on a purely physical approach. Expect both of these guys to pick up bookings and I wouldn`t be at all surprised if one of them gets a red.
As you move forward through the Fulham side they do get better, their middle three of Kacaniklic, Kasami and Tarrabt are not without some skill. Kacaniklic has the makings of a nice little player and I`d like to see what he can do in a better team, should Fulham end up relegated I`d expect a Premier League side to come in for him. Kasami is also a good player, he`s young and has goals in him (see his goal of the season volley from earlier a few months back for evidence). He puts himself about a bit and is certainly one to watch for the future, Juve were reported to be sniffing around him and should they end up selling Pogba I wouldn`t be at all surprised to see them come back in for this guy. Fulham could play an extra man in the middle of the park (possibly Richardson, Hughes or even the aging Karagounis) but I`d expect them to go with Tarrabt in a withdrawn role behind Bent. Berbatov is still an option for them and has scored 4 goals this season in the league (one less than their top hotshot Sidwell) but Bent always does well against us and has maybe a more shall we say "energetic" style than that of the smoking Bulgarian.
Most teams on a slide try first to stop leaking goals before building on that but Fulham are alarmingly open at the back. Even in their 3-0 midweek cup win over Norwich they could have been two or 3 down before they scored. Style wise, in the second half, they were some evidence that they do indeed practice defending during training, however their back four are still miles away from acting as a single unit and either their off-side line is a joke. Expect us to have lots of space at the back and also lots of the ball. Their full-backs could turn up anywhere on the pitch! They are not without skill and Kasami and Kacaniklic are both good players but the rest of the team are about 5 years past their best.
There is a chance that Ramsey will be back for Saturday but I expect the same team that started at Villa for us with Poldi coming in for Gnarby and Gibbs replacing the likely injured Nacho-Man. I hope we see a much improved performance from Santi and also that Jack continues his
upturn in form, with Ramsey likely to make an appearance from the bench Jack needs to do a lot of convincing. Score early and this could be a hammering but I think it will be another professional performance from us and it`s hard to see anything other than a convincing home win.
3-0 to Arsenal.
Date:Thursday January 16 2014
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