Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Arsenal v Fulham - Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke

Arsenal have reached the quarter-point of the Premier League season in decent shape. Like the draw at Schalke on Tuesday, it is a case of "could be better, could be worse".

Back in September, when his team were being hailed after a bright start to the Premier League campaign, Arsène Wenger deflected the praise with a simple mantra - judge us after 10 games.

That point was reached when the whistle blew at Old Trafford last Saturday. His side would end the weekend seventh in the table, just above upcoming opponents Fulham.

And so, having reached that self-imposed watershed, how does the Arsenal manager assess his team's position?

"I think we missed out on maybe four points that we could have had," he said.

"But overall we have shown great potential and, with everybody back, we will have a lot to say in this League. I am convinced of that.

"At the moment it is very difficult in our society to keep the right distance from things - it's very emotional. And after our game at Manchester United the team was hit very hard.

"We didn't have the greatest of games but it wasn't the disaster everyone painted afterwards.

"Let's not forget we have played 10 games, six of them away from home. We've played at Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Stoke.

"So if we have a good home record I think we have a very interesting part to play in the League."

That theory will be tested by decent-looking Fulham side, who have scored 21 goals this season - a figure only bettered by the top two. It is a counter-intuitive statistic given they lost their top scorer Clint Dempsey to Tottenham at the end of last season.

"Yes it is amazing really but then they bought Dimitar Berbatov and Hugo Rodallega," said Wenger. "They have Bryan Ruiz who has scored goals as well. They still have Damien Duff, who we know very well. So going forward they are very dangerous.

"Overall Fulham are a tricky, difficult opponent with good offensive potential. They've scored those 21 goals so we need a good, steady defensive performance and, of course, to continue to create the chances we made against Schalke."

That midweek trip to Germany was something of a return to form. OK, Arsenal let a two-goal lead slip but they scored early and could have scored more. That creativity has been the crucial absentee in recent games against the likes of Norwich, QPR and Manchester United.

Traditionally November has been a tricky month for Arsenal. It is the time when the exhausting English season first starts to take an effect. Wenger knows it will be no different for his three summer signings. However the one who has played least has started to shine.

"The three buys we made have been, for me, very positive," said Wenger. "And Olivier Giroud is now starting to show that he can score goals too.

"Santi Cazorla has played 17 games since the start of the season, and 17 games of complete intensity. Therefore he's a little less fresh at the moment.

"Lukas Podolski works very hard, in a way that he was not completely used to, as he says himself. Maybe they are a bit less fresh but overall I believe they will do very well here with us."

If required, Wenger may have little more scope for rotation in the coming weeks. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey face fitness tests before Saturday's game while Wojciech Szczesny may be named in a first-team squad for the first time since September. He came through 90 minutes for the under-21s on Friday and may make the bench.

That said, the manager admitted Vito Mannone's form could force him into an interesting decision.

"Vito will play on Saturday," said Wenger. "When he is fully fit and Wojciech is fully fit we will see. Wojciech is No 1 but I think Vito has handled the situation very well."

Wenger admits the next month is vital given it contains the end of Champions League Group B, the north London derby and the type of tricky away trips that tend to have a major influence on your Premier League position in May.

"It's an important period," said Wenger. "But it is like that for every team - Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City.

"Every club is in the same situation apart from Manchester United who have qualified for the Champions League knockout stages.

"On Wednesday night I was thinking 'what has happened to England?' Not one team was winning their game and it was like that almost until the end. I asked myself ‘have we dropped or is Europe so strong that we do not compete any more?

"Man United were one down with 10 minutes to go. Chelsea were 2-2 and Shakhtar Donetsk looked absolutely sublime. We did not win, Man City did not win. So it is difficult for everybody."

Still, as the manager said, Arsenal have been reasonable on the road. Right now, it is the home form that needs the attention given that Fulham, Tottenham and Montpellier arrive at Emirates Stadium within the next 10 days.

It also worth remembering that, as the manager says, backslaps can turn into brickbats all too quickly in modern football.

Prediction is one thing, final position another. And, to put it bluntly, in the last 15 years anyone who has foreseen Arsenal finishing outside top Premier League's leading quartet has ended up being proved wrong.

* The players will wear shirts embroidered with a poppy in recognition of The Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal.

Team news

Arsenal: Gibbs (thigh), Diaby (thigh), Rosicky (tendon), Gervinho (ankle), Fabianski (ankle), Wilshere (suspended)

Fulham: Diarra (doubt - knee), Richardson (doubt - illness), Davies (hip)

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