By Giuseppe Muro
Fulham are currently just one place above the Premier League relegation zone and with a number of injuries to key players Mark Hughes hasn’t had their easiest start to life at Craven Cottage.
The Cottagers have never won at Arsenal but can they change that record when they visit Emirates Stadium on Saturday? We spoke to Paul Warburton of the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle to get a Fulham perspective on the Premier League game.
THE STORY SO FAR
It’s not gone as well as they would have hoped so far. One of the reasons for that is because they have had key injuries. They didn’t start [the season] with Mark Schwarzer, someone who Arsenal were interested in during the summer, who is a fantastic keeper. Bobby Zamora is out for five or six months, Andy Johnson only made a brief comeback two weeks ago and is struggling with a calf [injury]. Striker Moussa Dembele, who signed in the summer, has problems with his ankle and left back Carlos Salcido limped out of last Saturday’s game against Birmingham City. So all-in-all with the injuries you could probably say that’s why Fulham are now 17th in the table.
BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL
They have been [near the bottom] before. The Europa League Final last season was an amazing feat given that they started playing football in July. They somehow managed not only to do well in the Premier League, but at the same time get to the final of a European competition and it seemed almost like dreamland. Whereas the previous two seasons have been a bit of a struggle. Two seasons back they escaped relegation on the very last day by winning at Portsmouth so it’s unfortunately a familiar scenario. It’s only December so there’s nothing to worry about just yet. There may have been more concern about going into a fixture like this if it had been April.
[In the absence of Bobby Zamora] they don’t have anyone who they can aim to towards and ‘lead the line’. Zoltan Gera, Clint Dempsey and Diomansy Kamara have all swapped and shared the duty in the absence of the others.
MAN OF THE MOMENT
Mark Schwarzer’s an Aussie, so probably nothing short of a volcano unsettles him. He is a very balanced person and at 37 he has seen it all and done it all so I don’t know if [the speculation linking him with Arsenal] unsettled him. Maybe he didn’t think a chance like that would come along too often, so I think he was miffed that he didn’t go. He had an injury at the start of the season so perhaps the disappointment of not going to the Emirates as well as the injury allowed him to come back stronger than ever. He is a key player for Fulham and that’s why Fulham are doing their best to hang on to him by handing him a new contract [that was finalised on Thursday].
THE MAN IN CHARGE
When I speak to the players, they claim that essentially Mark Hughes is more concerned with a more up-tempo training style in which there are high-energy factors required by everybody. Roy Hodgson would study things and got the players to study things. Dickson Etuhu was telling me the other day that the players saw a fair number of DVDs and things of that sort [under Hodgson], highlighting their own weaknesses as well as their own strengths. One [manager] is perhaps one who thrives on the training pitch and energy levels being improved and the second is probably more thoughtful and studious. As regards the fans, I think the jury is out to be honest with you. Results tend to tell the tale and if you’re 17th in the table you can hardly say Mark Hughes’ start has been glorious, and he knows that too. If he were to win half a dozen in a row I think he would probably go a great deal further in the fans’ mind as a replacement for Hodgson.