Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Yann Tear for their views.
At various points in a game, Fulham’s formation could accurately be described as a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1 - but regardless of the definition, the shape of the side is obvious. Two solid holding midfielders protect the defence, attack-minded wingers break forward quickly and one forward drops deeper than the other.
To a certain extent, that has been true of Fulham under previous managers Roy Hodgson and Mark Hughes, but Martin Jol has given the Cottagers a more attacking feel, and his side have scored the third-highest number of goals in the league this season, behind Manchester United and Chelsea. They have only lost three times in 2012/13 - against the two Manchester clubs, and at West Ham in early September, hours after the transfer deadline with an unfamiliar side.
Deadline day saw Fulham lose two key players, Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele, to Tottenham. The manner of the American’s departure left a bitter taste, but Fulham had enough talented attackers to compensate for his absence. However, they had no natural replacement for Dembele, whose direct midfield runs provided Jol with a fifth attacking player. Instead, a more conservative shape was inevitable - two of Mahamadou Diarra, Chris Baird and Steve Sidwell stay deep, giving discipline to the side, and preventing opponents from breaking quickly through the centre.
In possession, the central midfielders spread the ball calmly to the flanks. Fulham are aesthetically pleasing because they work the entire width of the pitch. There’s a determination to get the ball out quickly to the wingers, but they are happy to constantly switch play, changing the angle of attack.
They also offer a creative threat from the centre, especially when Bryan Ruiz is in the side, as he becomes a link player, offering a short forward passing option and adding another dimension to Fulham’s attack. Dimitar Berbatov also moves towards the ball rather than spinning in behind. Fulham have been caught offside less frequently than any other Premier League side this season, although Jol can play Hugo Rodallega as a pacy striker to exploit high defensive lines.
At set-pieces, Berbatov and Brede Hangeland are natural targets, but Baird has scored twice in his previous three games, with deft finishes after excellent darts towards the near post.
Without the ball, the attack-minded nature of Fulham’s wingers means they can be vulnerable down the flanks. After they snatched a draw against Everton last week, Jol admitted his side had struggled with the advanced positioning of Everton’s full-backs, so something similar from Arsenal might work nicely today.
In central zones Fulham retain a solid shape. They are compact between the lines and intelligent in the way they regain possession - they have attempted fewer tackles than any other Premier League side, but have completed the most interceptions. At the back, Hangeland and Aaron Hughes is one of the division’s finest partnerships. The former attracts plenty of attention for his dominance in the air, but Hughes plays a valuable covering role, sweeping up and clearing the danger calmly.
YANN TEAR, FULHAM CHRONICLE
I think Fulham can make history and win away at Arsenal for the first time. They’re more aggressive away from home than they have been in previous seasons. They’ve been a bit unlucky on the road, conceding late goals, but I think it’s a good time for Fulham to play Arsenal,. Arsène Wenger’s team have been going through a difficult spell of late and will have doubts if they don’t start well on Saturday.
Martin Jol has moulded a very settled back four that are ably shielded by Mahamadou Diarra and Chris Baird. Already, Dimitar Berbatov has looked an excellent signing. He’s got so much style and class and you can see how his presence lifts the others in the team. He’s looked very good so far and could well cause problems for Arsenal’s defence if he starts at the Emirates.
I think Fulham have got the better defence than Arsenal but it goes without saying that the Gunners will be dangerous if they click. Theo Walcott’s pace could cause damage if he starts. But I think Fulham will win 2-1 - it’s all set up for an upset.Copyright 2015 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