Arsenal released the words from Mikel Arteta for his press conference yesterday, which actually took place after the Sporting Lisbon game, so I guess all the journos were told it was under embargo until yesterday because a lot of the messaging didn’t really come out about the game until the afternoon yesterday. So I guess from a team news perspective it’s difficult to know exactly who is fit and able to play today until we get the team news at 1pm.
It sounds as though Gabriel Jesus might be in contention for at least a place on the bench and although Arteta never really gave a green light on that potential, him saying “we’ll see” is the closest thing we’ll ever get to having confirmation that he’s almost there. I think he travelled with the team to Portugal and I heard somewhere that the club were going to stick around in Lisbon for a little longer so maybe they were together as a team on Friday, then going in to Colney yesterday to do a bit of a morning training session, so if Gabby J did get in on that training session then you’d hope Arteta is perhaps ready to give him 10 – 15 minutes at the end. He wasn’t in any of the gallery pictures that were shown yesterday – neither was Odegaard – so the hope is that he, Odegaard and Tierney, have all shaken off their injuries, etc.
Just having him on the bench is a boost to us I think, at a time in which our attacking options look rather thin on the ground. We have Nketiah still out, Trossard too, so the reliance has been on Saka and Martinelli to play basically all the minutes. That may come back to haunt us at some stage but I guess we don’t really have an option at the moment.
And this is why I am nervous about today, because we’re going to have to play a fair few players who played a fair few minutes on Thursday night, this lunchtime. Zinchenko came off after about an hour so you’d hope he’s going to be fresh enough, where Partey came on for the last 20 minutes or so, which you’d hope means he comes in fresh too. Likewise we saw big Gabby come off for Kiwior with 20 to go, so in terms of players managing minutes across most of the side it feels like it was fine, but it is those attacking options I worry about. We need the likes to Emile Smith Rowe to be back up to speed and so I wonder if Arteta is planning on him sharing minutes with Nelson again. I thought Nelson was ok, a bit subdued, at Lisbon and although he made a couple of nice dribbles I think they marshalled him well. If he starts today I think it will be him up against Tete who is apparently a guy who isn’t the quickest, but is a good defender and so Nelson might find his options limited this afternoon. On the other flank they have a quite rapid full back Robinson who I was impressed with at the Emirates earlier in the season. I thought he had a good game an kept Saka quiet and after playing in midweek, he’ll no doubt be fresher than Bukayo.
Up the other end of the pitch they will be looking to see if Soloman can continue his lightning run of form – he’s scored five goals in his last five games – and I think it is on that side that they will look to exploit us, so we need to see a very good defensive display from Ben White today, probably with Saka dropping in for when Robinson drives on the overlap to create space. Then there is the aerial and physical prowess of Mitrovic who, whilst he hasn’t scored in a while, will still fancy a battle against Big Gabby and Saliba, so we will need both of those players ready for a physical battle that will ensue.
The pressure is on us today and I can’t say I’m overly confident on this one. It feels like midweek exploits and injuries have been playing a part in some of our recent performances and although we’ve been winning, we’ve also been leaking goals. Fulham give up goals but they also have a pretty good record of scoring them too; they’ve also only lost three times all this season at home, so I’m not expecting the same kind of performance that they gave against us last time they were promoted and we roasted them on the opening day of the season. They’ll cause us problems, you know the likes of Willian will somehow turn in to a proper footballer and not a waddler around the pitch like he was for us. Leno too, you just know, is having his best game of the season today. So my expectation is that we’ll need to sweat for this today; I think they’re going to ensure this is a tight match and I can easily see dropped points for us. Which is not really what we can afford, because City are now grinding through the gears and picking up win after win, against yesterday making light work of a pretty poor Palace side (who incidentally travel to the Emirates next weekend and will I’m sure give us much more of a game than they gave City yesterday – they didn’t even have a shot on target!). So our lead is down to two and dropped points today will feel like we have them breathing down their neck. A defeat or draw today will hit us hard because you look at our April and it’s going to be a struggle to pick up a large number of points in that month, which means we need to be making hay whilst the proverbial sun shines now.
Which is why I am particularly nervous about this one because if we lose or draw it will feel like that buffer we’ve been able to hold on to, is pretty thin and against a Fulham side who will be bang up for it, we need to show that we are too. I want to see us start fast, start in control of the game and have a go at Fulham. They have the lowest xG allowed in the whole league at home, so they will give us chances, but we need to take them. They also average 1.35 goals per game, which is the eighth best in the league, with their progression of the ball looking like it is through carrying rather than passing it. That says to me they are less likely to hit us with rapid transition because moving the ball by progressive passes is usually a quicker action than dribbling with it. They have also allowed the third most shots on their goal with 136 this season, which is an average minimum of five per match. Only Bournemouth and Brentford allow more shots, with Leno having made the second most saves in the league at 97 – just under four on target per match each game. So Fulham will give us chances, we just need to make sure we take them.
This is a big game. We need this win. If you are going to win titles, it is games like today that you need to pick up maximum points; it is not going to be easy, they will come at us and we may be feeling a bit of fatigue from a tough midweek fixture, but if these Arsenal players want to be fighting for this title until the end, then they have to pick up wins in these types of games.
Fingers crossed. Catch you all tomorrow with some post match thoughts.