By Richard Clarke
The spectre of Real Madrid must not be allowed to haunt Arsenal's trip to Craven Cottage on Saturday.
Arsène Wenger knows his side can ill-afford another defeat away from home and Fulham have the ability to punish any visiting side who have their minds elsewhere.
Chris Coleman's side have exactly the same home record as Arsenal but are the worst travellers in the Premiership. Their three points from 14 matches on the road makes Arsenal's 12, also from 14 trips, look positively healthy. In reality, however, it is far from it. Away form has pulled the rug from under Wenger's men in domestic competition this season
Ironically, Wednesday's game with the Galaticos gives them the opportunity to build on a 1-0 win at the Bernabeu and reach the last eight of the Champions League.
Before that, however, they must muddy another set of famous white shirts.
"It's always a danger when you have a big game in behind," said Wenger at Friday's pre-match press conference. "But there's only one way to prepare well for our Champions League game and that's to do well there.
"That's why I feel there's a lot at stake for us
tomorrow. It is a massive
game for us."
It was the same last Saturday at Ewood Park, of course, as Arsenal looked to build on that Madrid magic with victory over one of their main rivals for the fourth and final qualifying spot for next season's Champions League. Yet again Wenger's men were disappointed.
"We have wasted so many points that at the moment we cannot think we can still afford to drop more," said the manager. "We are now in contention with five or six clubs. The results can go for you for one club or two, but not for five. We just cannot afford to drop points any more.
"We want the victory. I think we are close. At Blackburn I don't think we were really lucky. I cannot fault the team for effort. We had some problems to get into the game but after in the second half it was all us and we were really close to coming back with something."
Wenger does not accept Arsenal now have to win the Champions League in order to play in the competition next season.
"We are not as far as that," he argued. "I feel it's a very dangerous game to think like that. We have to give absolutely everything to come back to be at least in a qualifying position."
He does see parallels with Liverpool's position last season yet adds: "I believe we can finish in fourth position."
The return of Freddie Ljungberg and Dennis Bergkamp will help Arsenal's cause but Robert Pires (flu) and Manuel Almunia (hand) dropped out of the squad on Friday to join the familiar throng of players on the treatment table.
"Fulham are more an offensive team but up front they are
quite physical," said Wenger. "Heider Helguson and Brian
McBride are quite good in the air, good in the challenges and of
course on crosses and long balls we will face tough opposition from
"But maybe it's a good opportunity for us. We go to a team that is very strong at home. We have not done well away and it's a good opportunity maybe for us to turn it around."Copyright 2014 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 4 Mar 2006