Pre-Match Report

Fulham v Arsenal - Match Preview

Aaron Ramsey

“I’m confident about the Premier League,” said Arsène Wenger firmly. “Very confident.

“But we have to come back to reality, back to normal and win this game.

“We didn’t start well. So it’s very important we bounce back very quickly and do not get too far behind the teams who already have six points.

“The season has started but we couldn't take off with points. This is a vital game because we must respond to the Villa defeat and recover very quickly.

“We play Wednesday night and Saturday morning this week. So it's very important that we get the energy, the dynamism and the focus straight back.”

Arsenal’s season is only 180 minutes old but it has created enough oscillating emotion to fill the first month or so. An everything-went-wrong 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa was followed by a could-not-have-gone-better 3-0 win at Fenerbahce.

The scorelines are so overshadowing that they put some of the facts in the dark. Certainly Arsenal were below par in London and sweetly efficient in Turkey but, in both games, the visiting keeper made a pair of stunning late saves which heavily influenced the mood.

Wenger’s side have the Champions League play-off second leg on Tuesday and then the north London derby the following Sunday. That makes Saturday’s trip to Fulham something of a momentum-turner.

Victory, followed by successful passage through to a 16th Champions League group stage in midweek, and Arsenal will have recovered from stage fright at the curtain-raiser. Lose and they will be painted as a side whose only success have come against a Fenerbahce side struggling in their domestic competitions.

Laurent Koscielny is suspended after his sending off against Villa but he would be out anyway having received a nasty gash on his head in Turkey. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Mikel Arteta (thigh), Thomas Vermaelen (back) and Ryo (rib) are all missing. In addition, the manager said he may rotate a little given the energy expended early on this season, the battle ahead and the tight turnaround between games this week.

“Many people complain about 12.45pm kick-offs,” said Wenger. “But nobody can convince me that you will be a different animal at 3pm than at 12.45pm.

“Recovery-wise, it’s not ideal but if you want to play Champions League you have to take that on board.

“We have some doubts of course and we have to check everybody. I will have to see who will be capable to play and who will need to be rested. But medically, everybody should be available.”

Fulham began with an eye-catching win at Sunderland last weekend and, on paper, Martin Jol has recruited well in pre-season. He replaced veteran keeper Mark Schwarzer with Maarten Stekelenburg (who picked up an injury on debut) and added to their defensive solidity with Fernando Amorebieta and Derek Boateng.

Further upfield there is Scott Parker, Adel Taarabt and Darren Bent; a trio that impresses Wenger.

“[Jol] has got one goalscorer, one guy who can give the final ball and one guy in the middle of the park with a lot of experience. [They are] good signings.

“Parker is maybe not the youngest anymore but what you lose a bit with maybe physical quality, you can gain in positioning on the field and guiding other players.

“He has always been very motivated and he still has that hunger. Even for Tottenham last year, he was an important player and for me he's a good signing.”

Of course, Wenger is still looking to make his own acquisitions before the window closes. Mathieu Flamini was the latest name linked but, at his press conference, the manager would only confirm he had been training with the club and was physically ready. An imminent deal was neither confirmed nor denied.

It leaves Arsenal travelling to Fulham with, bar Koscielny, the squad that picked holes in Fenerbahce in the first 45 minutes then drove through them in second.

Therefore you can understand the manager training his vision on Craven Cottage for now. And he wants the rest of us to do the same.

“It is difficult,” he concluded. “I can understand the importance of our fans to be reassured by big signings because it makes you more confident.

“But you can sometimes forget how good your players are and, with that, think the solution is always somewhere else. I can understand it but we have to rate the players we have too.

“You have to travel far to find the quality of our midfield at Fenerbahce the other night.

“So it is our important our players do not feel a lack of support or confidence.

“We know what we have to do and what we want to do.

“But in the meantime," he added, "it is important we continue to support our team.”

Team news:

Arsenal: Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Arteta (thigh), Vermaelen (back), Ryo (rib), Diaby (rib)

Fulham: Stekelenburg (shoulder), Richardson (hamstring)

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