By Chris Harris
When Fulham edged out Newcastle at the start of February, Chris Coleman and his players were speeding towards the safety of mid-table. The wheels haven't exactly come off since then, but their ride has become a whole lot rougher.
Four draws and six defeats in 10 games have seen Coleman relieved of his duties and Fulham slide down the Premiership table. Just three points separate the Cottagers from the relegation zone and Lawrie Sanchez, the Northern Ireland manager, has been drafted in to repair the damage.
He will have his work cut out. Fulham have Arsenal and Liverpool lying in wait before a potentially decisive last-day trip to Middlesbrough. If they're not careful, the Cottagers will be relying on mistakes from their fellow strugglers.
We asked Paul Warburton of the Kensington and Chelsea News for a Fulham perspective ahead of Sunday's clash at Emirates Stadium. Read on for his take on Fulham's slump, Coleman's departure, the new faces at the Cottage and the man who can secure the points they need for survival.
THE STORY SO FAR
"They lost Antti Niemi for a good many weeks from January onwards and he was a pivotal figure in some respects. He's been responsible for a few wins they shouldn't have got, not least the 2-1 win against Arsenal at Craven Cottage. Fulham have had 15 draws and if Niemi had been fit between January and March they would probably have converted a few of those into wins. That's six points and that would mean Premiership safety. It has been frustrating to watch them at times because you can see what is needed. Some of the games have been unspeakable boring, especially the 0-0 draw against Aston Villa which was as near to watching paint dry as you can get in the Premiership.
"I don't think getting rid of Chris Coleman was the right decision but then again he's had a good knock compared to many other Fulham managers and chief executives under the chairmanship of Mohammed al-Fayed over the past 10 years. There was a sense that Fulham didn't really understand the danger they were in and even now that's possibly the case. Fulham are at the top of a mini-group of five teams, two of which will go down with Watford. The odds are in Fulham's favour, even if they have to play Arsenal and Liverpool, because the other sides have tough games too and the likes of West Ham and Charlton probably won't have enough to get the wins they need."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Fulham's player of the season is Michael Brown by a country mile. He has shown energy and drive in midfield and many of his team-mates have been lacking in those departments. Brown seems to have had the motivation, the bit between his teeth. I wish I could say Fulham's player of the season was a classy, silky midfielder or forward who has shown skill and pace. Brown is not like that, he is all energy, guts and drive and good luck to him, but Fulham need something more than that next season."
"Chris Coleman signed two more midfielders in January - and Simon Davies and Alexei Smertin were the least of their needs really. Fulham needed someone alongside Brian McBride to put the ball in the net, that was an urgent requirement. In the end they got Vincenzo Montella on loan from Roma and he has promised more than he's delivered. That's more down to fitness than anything else. Montella has been under the knife 13 times in his career and he is fourth choice at Roma, who of course lost 7-1 at Manchester United, so that gives you an idea. I think Coleman made the wrong choices."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"It's difficult to know what to do with the team which hasn't already been done, but I think certain players need to be moved on to pastures new. Fulham have four centre backs - Knight, Bocanegra, Pearce and Christanval - but none of them have really stepped up to the plate this season. They desperately need a new forward alongside McBride too."
"Ian Pearce is unlikely to appear, he went over on his ankle during the game against Portsmouth and, being Pearce, he bravely stumbled through the last 20 minutes of the game because Fulham had used all three subs. He even scored the equaliser - with his weaker foot! He's got problems now though so probably won't play on Sunday. Franck Queudrue also went over on his ankle in training and is a doubt at left back. Collins John, the Dutch striker, is also out. He did his ligaments at Everton."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Fulham's record against Arsenal ain't good, that's why the 2-1 win earlier this season came out of the blue. You have to go back years to a 0-0 draw at Highbury for Fulham's last decent result away at Arsenal. Fulham's goal was peppered throughout but Edwin van der Sar kept a clean sheet and they really rode their luck. By and large Arsenal have normally had something over Fulham and the only thing in Fulham's favour on Sunday will be the knowledge that they won the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage. As for me, I'm very much looking forward to visiting the Emirates. I was born in North London and would have been an Arsenal supporter if my family hadn't moved when I was 10 and inflicted Southend United on me! The Emirates is a fabulous place to be, judging by all I've read and seen, and I'm looking forward to it."
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