A 12pm kick off is a funny old thing. It’s the earliest type of kick off you get in the Premier League and whilst I’m no fan of Sunday games anyway, I can tolerate these more because it still feels like you have something of a day after the team have played, although only if The Arsenal win of course.
That’s something we’ve started to get used to of late and with eight wins on the bounce it’s a feeling that I’d like to see replicated today against Fulham.
This will be by no means an easy game though. For one thing Fulham have had a week to rest whereas some of our players made the mega-trip back from Azerbaijan on Friday – just two days ago – having played against Qarabag and although Unai Emery has said that fatigue should have no bearing on the performance today, I still think we might see a sluggish performance from The Arsenal, maybe not physically but perhaps mentally.
Perhaps I’m over-egging the point on the trip that was made but as I said yesterday I think every team that plays midweek football is maybe at 95% or 98% of its usual capability and so the games become just about getting results. In top flight professional sport those ‘marginal gains’ are well documented and so if Arsenal are at 95% today then we could get a bloody nose against the Cottagers.
If you’re looking at who might play and face that fatigue though, at least the list is relatively short. Leno, Sokratis, and Monreal are the main contenders to play from the start today and Leno will be alright, whilst Monreal was taken off at halftime as a precaution. I doubt Emery will start with Holding despite how well he played so I suspect we’ll get a back four again that will include Mustafi and Bellerin with Sokratis and Monreal. Kolansinac did well going forward but was still a little questionable defensively at times but I don’t think he’ll be given the nod simply because he’s only just returned to first team action.
The midfield of Elneny and Guendouzi will surely be replaced by Torreira and Xhaka and in front of them I’d hope to see Ozil more centrally, with Mkhitaryan and Auba out wide and Laca up top. Perhaps there’s an argument for the all action running of Ramsey but if that is the case I don’t think you ply Ozil. The German played on Thursday for a bit but that won’t have affected his fatigue levels so I’d expect to see him from the start. I just hope we don’t get the congestion that we’ve seen with Ramsey, Ozil, Auba and Lacas all trying to occupy central positions. It makes us look unbalanced, players play on top of each other and it doesn’t make the most of wide positions against opposition, putting too much pressure on Monreal and Bellerin to deliver and be creative forces out wide with no help or overlaps.
Fulham aren’t great at defending from wide positions and so if we are going to go with the big names again they’ll certainly be breathing a sigh of relief because it will mean they can compact the space and look to frustrate Arsenal today. I hope Emery and his team have realised this and that’s why I’m hoping the he makes a decision to try and tell some of his offensive players to attack the wide space.
Fulham’s threat comes from the goal of Mitrovic and the trickery of Schurrle and Vietto, with Seri providing the vision and delivery from deep. They will look to hit us with the physicality of the Serbian forward and if they get balls in to our box up high then we should suspect a battle. Which is why we have to hope that our man Sokratis has got his ‘hard bastard’ hat on today. I think we might need him to be facing down Mitrovic because that’ll be a tussle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
Seri is their real gem though and so I hope that Torreira is given that detail duty because if we close his space then I think that’s where a lot of the creativity and build up may come from. If he has a quiet game then it may even be possible for us to extend our clean sheets to three. I probably suspect we won’t though, which means the apex of our team need to be on it. The good news is that Fulham are supposedly as wobbly at the back as we are and although I haven’t watched loads of their matches, I have seen a few individual errors in the team, so if we can put them under enough pressure higher up the pitch then it might pay dividends. That’s where we want to see the Emery playing style – something I feel like we’ve missed since the first couple of games of the season – start to shine through. A team that puts this Fulham back line under pressure will score goals. The question is whether Arsenal are going to do that today.
I hope so. We’ve got some good players who can do damage and that’s what I’m hoping to see today. A good start to the game too would be nice thank you very much, Arsenal.