By Richard Clarke
“They could play the same way against Chelsea today and the result could be very different - but, the other night, they lost the game.
"We will go there on Saturday and focus on the performance on that [particular] day. It is a derby and you always expect a game in London to be difficult.
"The only way for us to deal with it is to focus the way we did against Everton and come out with a strong performance. After all, that is what we have done recently in every single game.”
Comparison, they say, is the thief of joy. But at this stage of the season you just can’t help yourself.
Arsenal to win @ 3/4
Part of the upside of Tuesday’s goalless draw at home to Everton was that the visitors were clinging on at the end. When the Merseysiders went to Tottenham recently, it was the home team who escaped with a point.
On Saturday, Arsenal travel to Craven Cottage to take on a Fulham side who were eventually well-beaten by Chelsea on Wednesday. But Arsène Wenger’s opening quote suggests he is well aware Martin Jol’s team matched their near-neighbours until David Luiz turned the game with a wonder strike.
The result pushed Arsenal back down to fourth place and, technically, leaves their Champions League fate out of their hands. Although Wenger could claim Tuesday was a moral victory, Saturday simply has to be real one.
Especially as Chelsea travel to Liverpool and Tottenham entertain Manchester City a day later - hardly straight-forward missions.
Overall, Arsenal have form on their side and you can argue the performance against Everton was more convincing than their last two hours of football (the 90 minutes against Norwich and the final half-hour with 10-men at West Brom). Everything was right but the finishing, a facet that has been otherwise exemplary for a couple of months.
“The match was of a high intensity level,” said Wenger. “Intensity-wise, it was like a Champions League game. I think we were stable, defensively strong and had a good focus [after] a bit of a nervous start. Once we took control of the game we were consistent, focused and had a good fight. The only thing you want to improve from that is your offensive efficiency but, as well, you can say that Everton are a team that are defensively strong and put all their energy into good defending on the night.”
Lukasz Fabianski’s rib injury is being managed game-to-game but he will not be available at Fulham. Tomas Rosicky (hamstring), Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (all knocks) were facing fitness tests on Friday but are expected to be fit.
We have put a fantastic run together ourselves. We want to continue that.
The last of those players has been Arsenal’s leading impact substitute in the last two games. His pace set up the crucial second goal against Norwich on Saturday while his tenacity provided a couple of fine chances for Olivier Giroud on Tuesday.
“He's doing very well,” said Wenger. “I believe he has moved forward this season and you will see that next season. He is still very young but you can see now that there is more urgency in his game.
“He's less of a boy than he was a year ago. He is becoming a man. When he comes on, he plays to affect the game and he has the capability to do it.”
Meanwhile Fabianski’s injury means Wojciech Szczesny will retain the gloves.
“I felt Wojciech had a good performance on Tuesday,” said Wenger. “I was pleased with his focus and his sharpness.
“He dealt well with the situation that he faced. In our job there is only one way to respond, to practice harder and stronger and show that you are ready for a fight. That is what he did.”
That applies to the rest of the squad against a Fulham side seeing out the season in the comfort of 10th place. Jol brought in Dimitar Berbatov soon after arriving last summer. The Bulgarian has been the star attraction for a team who, generally, have beaten the sides below them at home, drawn with them away and struggled with anyone in the top six.
“They are a good side who everybody takes seriously,” said Wenger. “They have a good technical level. Martin Jol plays with good football philosophy. He is from the Dutch school and so they always have a good positive attitude.
“He has bought the players who suit his game and who can play his game.
“Berbatov is at the heart of their creative side. He can score and he can provide so it's important that we keep him very quiet.
“But Bryan Ruiz did well the other night, Steven Sidwell played well too and they were very solid at the back.
“I remember we played a 3-3 at home and we missed a penalty in the last minute. They played very well here and, for me, they have done well overall.
“But then we have put a fantastic run together ourselves. We want to continue that. After the Tottenham game I told you we had no room to drop points and that's where we are now. We do not have to look at the history, just the performance of the day.”
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Arsenal should not even look at the history of this week. If they perform at the level they produced against Everton, surely they will win four of their last five. Only champions-elect Manchester United might be able to cope with the pressure they created. Meanwhile the backline looked very solid against one of the few sides who could match Wenger’s men in the form table.
Still, results matter more than performance right now. Limping over the line is fine as any issues can be solved in a summer safe in the knowledge that you have Champions League football on the fixture list next term.
The display on Tuesday, if not the result, maintained the momentum and sustained the belief.
So now, more than ever, is the time to keep the faith.
Arsenal: Rosicky (doubt - hamstring), Fabianski (rib), Diaby (knee)
Fulham: Riether (calf), Duff (hip), Dejagah (ankle), Diarra (knee)Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source