Arsenal face Fulham in the Premier League at Craven Cottage on Saturday.
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Last weekend's home defeat to Aston Villa may have been deeply disappointing, but the performance of Tomas Rosicky was a definite bright spot. The Czech midfielder was in inspired form at the end of last season, and on Saturday's evidence he has carried that into the new campaign.
With Santi Cazorla on the bench, Rosicky assumed the No 10 role and played with his trademark pace and energy. As our heatmap above shows, the 32-year-old stationed himself in the lines between the Villa midfeld and defence, drawing defenders and helping to release Arsenal's wide players. He did this superbly for the opening goal of the game, colecting the ball on the left flank and playing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain through, who in turn set up Olivier Giroud to convert.
As our chalkboard shows, Rosicky also made three 'key passes' (yellow squares) which led directly to goalscoring chances, while he also made numerous successful passes (green squares) in the danger area between the Villa midfield and backline. As Arsenal chased the game, Rosicky - as their most incisive player - tried to dictate play on the edge of the box, leading to a few unsuccessful passes (red squares) but he was always the most likely candidate to score.
It was an encouraging attacking performance from Rosicky, who once again showed his willingness to chase back and harry those Villa players in possession, too. Unfortunately it was not enough to get Arsenal back into the game, but his display offers cause for optimism ahead of the Fulham match.
KEY BATTLE - SAGNA v BERBATOV
With Laurent Koscielny suspended for Saturday's trip to Craven Cottage, and Thomas Vermaelen out injured, it will fall on Bacary Sagna to partner Per Mertesacker in central defence. It is a position that he is increasingly accustomed to, having filled in there at times last season (his man-of-the-match display at Sunderland a particular highlight) and also in pre-season.
Wenger has no concerns about moving Sagna inside, and believes it is where he long-term future may lie - but facing Dimitar Berbatov may be the acid test. The brilliant Bulgarian scored 15 Premier League goals last season and can cause real problems for centre backs with his tendency to drop into the hole.
Where Sagna will hope to dominate is in the air - the France international won 68.2 per cent of his aerial duels last season, with Berbatov winning less than half of his. It is a similar story in terms of overall duels, so staying close to the Bulgarian could prove crucial. Berbatov's intelligence allows him to buy space and draw fouls (he won 45 last term) so Sagna will need to stay disciplined.
It is a fascinating battle that could prove central to Arsenal's hopes of a positive result.
FULHAM v ARSENAL - MATCH FACTS
- Only against Manchester United (17) have Fulham lost more Premier League games than versus Arsenal (16)
- Arsenal won the most points from London derbies in 2012/13 (19)
- Fulham have won just three of their previous 24 Premier League games against the Gunners, but all three of these victories have come at Craven Cottage
- There have been four red cards given in the last three Premier League meetings between Fulham and Arsenal (two each) at Craven Cottage
- The Gunners have been given more red cards in the Premier League since the start of 2012/13 than any other side (6), including Laurent Koscielny’s dismissal in the opening game this term
- Fulham attempted just one shot at goal (excluding blocked) in their opening-day win over Sunderland, but this shot from Pajtim Kasami decided the game
- Darren Bent has scored six goals in his last eight Premier League games against Arsenal
- Arsenal have not lost their opening two matches of a Premier League season since 1992/93. In 2012/13, Arsenal did not win in the league until their third game, after drawing the first two 0-0
- Fulham have never won their opening two matches of a Premier League season. The last time that they won their first two league games of a season was in 2000/01 in the second tier
- Following his goal against Aston Villa, Olivier Giroud has now scored 12 goals in the Premier League for Arsenal. However, just one of these has come away from home
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