Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side travel to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Giuseppe Muro for their views.
Arsenal have encountered problems against Fulham in recent years but, while the Cottagers are a good side, it’s difficult to summarise precisely what Arsenal have struggled with, considering Fulham’s attackers have frequently changed, and they don’t have a particularly distinct playing style.
Martin Jol’s summer strengthening started in goal, where World Cup finalist Maarten Stekelenburg was signed from Roma - but the Dutchman picked up a shoulder injury on his debut last weekend, which means reserve David Stockdale is likely to face Arsenal.
"Fulham’s win over Sunderland was achieved with just 42 per cent of possession, and the winner was their only shot on target"
He’s a decent keeper, and has been called up to the full England squad previously, but the majority of his appearances have been in divisions below the Premier League, and he remains relatively inexperienced at this level.
Fulham’s centre-back options have been improved following the arrival of Fernando Amorebieta from Athletic Bilbao. He’s an extremely tenacious centre back persistently getting into trouble with referees, but injury prevented him from starting last weekend’s 1-0 win over Sunderland. Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland - the partnership that guided Fulham to the 2010 Europa League final - started instead, and following that clean sheet should remain in the side.
The underrated right back Sasha Riether was Fulham’s Player of the Year last year, so Arsenal might consider attacking more down the opposite flank - Kieran Richardson was another who limped off last weekend, so youngster Matthew Briggs will start with John Arne Riise out of favour.
Fulham’s central midfield zone is functional rather than creative - former Arsenal trainee Steve Sidwell puts plenty of tackles in and was sent off in this fixture last season. Derek Boateng is another combative, energetic midfielder, although one of these players will probably make way for new signing Scott Parker.
On the flanks, Fulham traditionally use disciplined wide players that break quickly towards goal. Left-footed right winger Damien Duff, who set up last weekend’s winner for Pajtim Kasami, is a classic example.
On the other flank, the loan signing of Adel Taarabt provides a more creative option. He receives the ball in pockets between the lines, and was superb in QPR’s 2-1 win over Arsenal two seasons ago. Kasami will probably continue in the central role just behind Dimitar Berbatov, who scored twice at the Emirates last season.
Fulham’s win over Sunderland was achieved with just 42 per cent of possession, and the winner was their only shot on target - so while Arsenal will expect to dominate, they must ensure they’re not undone on the counter-attack.
GIUSEPPE MURO, EVENING STANDARD
These are really exciting times at Fulham Football Club. They flirted with relegation at the end of last season and lost six of their last eight games. The future looks bright under new owner Shahid Khan who has taken over from Mohamed Al-Fayed. Expectations levels among the fans have been heightened by his arrival and the takeover. They have started well too, winning 1-0 at Sunderland last week, though that was a bit of a smash and grab.
"When Khan took over at the football club, Jol was able to spend a bit more money"
They've made some really exciting signings. Jol did a lot of his business right at the start of the summer, before Khan took over. They signed Fernando Amorebieta, a Venezuelan defender who is quite versatile. They brought in Derek Boateng, a combative midfielder too. For me, a really impressive signing was Maarten Stekelenburg, who joined from Roma. He's the Holland goalkeeper and comes with a good reputation. Mark Schwarzer's contract expired at the end of the season and Jol was quite reluctant to give him assurances that he'd be the No 1.
When Khan took over at the football club, Jol was able to spend a bit more money. He signed Adel Taarabt on loan from QPR. They worked together at Tottenham Hotspur and that could turn out to be quite an astute signing if he can get the best out of him. Fulham signed Darren Bent on a season-long loan too, which I think is a great bit of business. He's still got aspirations of making England's World Cup squad.
Scott Parker joined this week. I think Jol needed to reinforce the midfield because he's had to make ends meet since Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey joined Spurs. Parker was the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year two years ago too. He should make his debut on Saturday along with Bent, though Stekelenburg is out with a shoulder injury so David Stockdale will be in goal.
Arsenal may be able to get at Fulham down the right on Saturday. John Arne Riise is out of favour and is set to leave. That means Kieran Richardson will probably start, so he may be targeted.
A lot depends on whether Arsenal are ready to go again so soon after their midweek game in Turkey. My prediction is a 1-1 draw.
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