By Matt Fortune
The opening day comeback by Arsenal against Fulham in 2007/08 heralded massively contrasting seasons for these two teams. The Gunners pushed on, maintaining a title challenge for the majority of the campaign. The West Londoners faced the possibility of relegation right up until the final day of the season.
This time the sides meet on Saturday having experienced differing results seven days ago. Fulham’s defeat to Hull was arguably the shock of the weekend in the Premier League. A visit from Arsenal, who won 3-0 at Craven Cottage in January, is the last thing Roy Hodgson’s men wanted.
Ahead of the game we spoke to Dean Jones of the Wardle Agency for a lowdown on Saturday’s opponents. Read on for his view on the summer spending at the Cottage, the difference between Lawrie Sanchez and Roy Hodgson, plus why there is concern and excitement in equal measure about Andy Johnson’s move from Everton.
STORY SO FAR
“It wasn’t good last week. I think they started the game well enough but, as it was last season, the more it went on without Fulham killing off the game, Hull came back into it. After the equaliser Fulham just couldn’t get their rhythm back. To compound it a defensive error, which sums them up, cost them the game. It isn’t a good start at all, especially as the fans have been so optimistic in pre-season, feeling that this could be a year where we push on. But to lose so early against Hull is a blow.
“There has been a good mood around the Club, and certainly Andy Johnson’s signing helped that. If you consider Lawrie Sanchez last summer spent £30 million on players no-one was convinced by; players of Championship standard. Roy, though, has taken it up a level with the faces he has bought in, and it has given everyone hope. Not silly hope, not that they could push into the top half of the table, but just a safe season with perhaps a cup run. That hope is still there, it hasn’t gone on the back of a defeat to Hull because people realise just how big of a game it was for them being in the Premier League. The fans are just probably less optimistic than they were.
“Everyone will be looking at being clear of relegation by February/March time as a good thing. They’re not too hopeful but I think a 13th place finish would leave them all happy. On top of that a cup run would give them something to be excited about. I think as far as Fulham are concerned that would be a success. The Club are building towards something rather than being at an end product now.”
MAN OF THE MOMENT
“The board has given Roy big money this summer. What is key is that Hodgson goes about things very differently to Sanchez and I think his approach that is much more convincing. Certainly I think Fayed will believe in Hodgson – after the good pre-season – and won’t panic if things aren’t going too well in October. Fayed has put a lot of money into the club and I think he would only force his hand if Fulham looked like they were really dying out in the Premier League, like has happened in the past. Chris Coleman came in and saved them, Sanchez did the same and of course Roy did that last season. I wouldn’t rule it out happening again, but there is the hope that Roy is the man to avoid that situation.”
BOY MOST LIKELY
“Andy Johnson is an exciting signing but there is some concern already because he isn’t fit. His transfer took a while to go through and it isn’t completely clear why that was. He has a thigh strain and won’t play against Arsenal, so there is a concern. If he can stay fit then without doubt he is the signing Fulham has been waiting for since Louis Saha left for Manchester United. When Saha left Fulham sort of died in a way, with no striker to get excited by every time the ball came into the box. Andy Johnson could be that player; he did it at Crystal Palace, not so much at Everton because they played a different style, and now he will here - he will suit the way of playing much more. For once it is nice to have a star of the show, a big money signing, a player that gets you excited and gives you hope of getting a goal from nothing.”
“The club are hopeful that Bobby Zamora and Johnson will compliment each other, although they haven’t had a chance to work on that yet. Bobby has looked really sharp in pre-season and if he can get 10 goals to compliment whatever Johnson gets then people will be happy. As important as scoring goals though, is the way he plays. He will be a link between the front and the midfield, and also the wide players, but he also has that stature that might worry defenders more than Fulham have had in the past. That is so important now with the departure of Brian McBride, they don’t have that big presence and it is hoped Bobby can be the guy to do that.
“Zoltan Gera is a really good signing, and he came on a free as well! I think he could have gone to any Premier League club as a squad player. He brings balance to the side, something that was missing before, and what is also useful is that him and Davies can swap flanks. Gera has a clever way of thinking, can pull off the pass no-one was thinking about, and with a player like Andy Johnson up front, he will just thrive off that kind of service. I don’t know if Gera will score too many but he will certainly create quite a few. He is an exciting signing and one that has passed under the radar. On a free he is a great signing.”
“It will be a strange one for Jimmy Bullard I think this season, not helped with the speculation about his future. I think he will stay and it will be interesting to see how he and Danny Murphy combine. The manager has pointed out the pair are similar in build and the way they play, and he wants a bigger type of player to take the defensive side of things on board. So I am not sure how much Jimmy will actually play as the season goes on. But what Jimmy brings is of course his set-pieces and his enthusiasm. It is that the fans really love and it is why they are disappointed to see him being linked with a move away. At the tail end of last season his enthusiasm spurred everyone on to believe that they could do it. He scored a couple and his free-kicks and set up a few more, but it’s really his character that makes him so great to have around. I don’t think anyone believes Jimmy is the best footballer in the team because he is not. He has something that no-one else can bring and that alone is worth so much to Fulham. That is why they want to keep hold of him.”
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
“There was a big problem with depth last season but I think there is a much better squad in place now. Looking at the players Roy has bought in, he has used his Scandinavian connections. We don’t know a great deal about those players but when you watch them you see they are very technical. So the team are certainly better equipped than last season. They do need to hope none of there big name players get injured because McBride and Bullard going so early last term killed them basically.”
“It will be a 4-4-2 formation, but the one thing Hodgson has now been able to do is establish the passing game among the players. It came to view a bit towards the tail-end of last season, but there was always that ‘get into them’ way of thinking because of the position the team were in. Every game meant so much they just had to go for it. I don’t think we will see that so much this time, perhaps a bit more patience and looking to players like Gera and Davies on the wing to get crosses in and recycle the ball.”