Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Arsenal v Fulham - Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Chris Harris

Arsenal supporters tend to fall into one of two camps right now.

On one hand you have the glass-half-empty brigade. They harbour concerns over some areas of the team and bemoan eight dropped points in four Premier League games, the yawning gap between Arsenal and the leaders and the narrower but no less significant gap to fourth-place Aston Villa.

Then there are the optimists, busy accentuating the positives. Arsenal are unbeaten in 14 games, they say. Andrey Arshavin is here, they add. And Arsenal will soon have an embarrassment of attacking riches when the cavalry returns, led by captain Cesc Fabregas.

It's obvious which side of the argument Arsène Wenger falls on. He was in impish mood at his pre-match press conference on Friday, his disposition as sunny as the unseasonably warm weather at the Arsenal training ground. Indeed Wenger expressed his pity for the gathered journalists, who tend to take a darker view of Arsenal's prospects.

"In every press conference, everything is always dark and black," he observed. "So I worry a bit about you!

"I am more of an optimist. I see everything in the future is bright and positive. With the potential of our players and everything at the Club, I have more reasons to be an optimist than a pessimist, so I feel sorry for you."

You could understand why Wenger was so chirpy. His team had shown glimpses of its buccaneering best against Roma in midweek while Abou Diaby - ruled out by the Frenchman 24 hours earlier - had been passed fit to face Fulham after making a speedy recovery from his calf problem. Not only that, Arshavin, ineligible for the Champions League, is available again and should last longer than the 63 minutes he managed against Sunderland. Even the sidelined sextet of Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, Mikael Silvestre, Eduardo and Emmanuel Adebayor are closer than ever to a comeback.

If anything could darken Wenger's mood, it might be Fulham.

Roy Hodgson's side have produced title-winning form at Craven Cottage - Arsenal came a cropper there in August and only Manchester United have eclipsed their eight home wins - but they have yet to win on the road this season.

In fact Fulham have scored just three goals in 13 games on their travels, grinding out five goalless draws along the way. If you thought West Ham and Sunderland 'parked the bus' at Emirates Stadium, Fulham might bring the footballing equivalent of an articulated lorry.

“I expect them to be a tough opponent," said Wenger. "They beat us at Fulham and it was a very bitter defeat.

"On the night I felt we were not competitive and that of course is something we want to rectify on Saturday. Performance-wise it was certainly the worst one I have seen this season but it was straight after the first international game in August and we had Champions League competition in the weeks before.

"I felt we were just empty, our tank had nothing left, but we were well beaten and we want to put that right.

"I don't realistically expect Fulham to play an open game. But it is not down to the opponent to give us an opening. It is down to us to find an opening and be creative enough to punish the teams who refuse to play.

"We do not have any influence on any opponent's behaviour. I just said that it was a fact that most teams have come to the Emirates and after five minutes it is a goal kick and the goalkeeper goes from the right to the left to gain a minute. That for me is a negative attitude. But it has to strengthen even more our resolve to punish these teams and to win the games.

"We have to find the solutions for the problems the team give us and I don’t expect them to make life easy for us. Fulham have a great defensive record away from home, but we want to break that record, score goals and keep our tight defensive side."

Arsenal's defence has certainly ironed out its faults since that defeat at Craven Cottage when poor marking from a corner cost three valuable points. Now Wenger's team are on a run of five consecutive clean sheets and should make that six out of six at the weekend.

The issue lies at the other end of the pitch. Arsenal's wit and tempo proved too much for Cardiff in the FA Cup and Roma in the Champions League but can they transmit that free-flowing, free-scoring form into the Premier League?

"We created opportunities in the last two games, but we want to continue to create and put the goals in the back of the net," declared Wenger. He knows Arsenal are hard to beat. Now, as on Tuesday night, they must be hard to resist too.

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