Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.Fulham are the visitors to Emirates Stadium in the Premier League on Saturday, to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Giuseppe Muro. MICHAEL COXFulham are arguably the most unpredictable side in the Premier League this season, having managed five wins, 14 defeats and no draws in their previous 19 matches.
There’s a consistent pattern to their performance against top-half sides, however: they’re yet to gain a single point from these contests.
Rene Meulensteen’s appointment hasn’t changed the basic structure of the side, although Fulham have become open and adventurous compared to the Martin Jol era. They’re dominating possession more regularly, although the Cottagers have often struggled to convert this into goals - last week at home to Sunderland, they had 59 per cent of possession but lost 4-1.
"They’re dominating possession more regularly, although the Cottagers have often struggled to convert this into goals"
Indeed, in recent years Fulham have been more effective playing on the break. Under Roy Hodgson, they were cautious and reactive but hit the opposition extremely quickly when possession was won.
Fulham’s starting XI usually has the highest average age in the division, and it’s doubtful whether they can compete in exciting, open games of football against superior sides - they might lack the stamina.
Meulensteen’s major concern is at the back, where Fulham have kept just one clean sheet in the eight games since the Dutchman took charge. Conceding 10 goals against Hull and Sunderland, among the division’s least prolific sides, was particularly alarming.
Meulensteen has tried all three combinations involving Aaron Hughes, Philippe Senderos and Fernando Amorebieta, with little success. Former Arsenal centre back Senderos was not at his best against Sunderland and so may miss out on Saturday, with Hughes sweeping up behind the more impetuous, rugged Amorebieta.
The potential return of captain Brede Hangeland is a reason to be positive - he’d relish a battle against Olivier Giroud.
In midfield, Meulensteen protects the defence with two hard-working midfield battlers. Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker get through a similar amount of defensive work, Sidwell to the left and Parker to the right, and they take it in turns to venture forward into attack.
Up front, Meulensteen has favoured Adel Taarabt just behind Dimitar Berbatov. They’re one of the Premier League’s most talented forward duos, but surely the most leisurely, too - don’t expect much pressing.
Taarabt can drive forward powerfully from midfield, while Berbatov’s touch can be magnificent, but he’s often caught offside, so a high defensive line makes sense for Arsenal on Saturday.
GIUSEPPE MURO, LONDON EVENING STANDARDFulham got off to a really good start under Rene Meulensteen, they were on a downward spiral under Martin Jol and a change needed to be made.
Since he took over their results have improved. In his first game against Tottenham they were unlucky to lose after going 1-0 up and Spurs scored a couple of long-range goals. But the signs were there in that game that the team had a lot more fighting spirit.
"At the back, the captain Brede Hangeland has just returned after 10 weeks on the sidelines so that's a big boost for them"
In the next game they beat Aston Villa at home. But since then it's been bit up and down. They were beaten 4-1 by Sunderland last weekend and after playing well for the first 20 minutes, Meulensteen was really disappointed with how his team capitulated.
But they bounced back again with a 3-0 win over Norwich City in the FA Cup on Tuesday so you just don't know what side is going to turn up.
If Fulham turn up and play to their potential at the Emirates then there is every chance they will cause Arsenal problems. But it wouldn't surprise me if the Gunners had a comfortable afternoon.
Since Meulensteen took charge he's tinkered with their midfield formation. He is now playing Scott Parker, Steve Sidwell and Giorgios Karagounis as a midfield three and they complement each other really well. Karagounis has been sitting deep with Parker which has allowed Sidwell to get forward a little bit more and he's scored three in his last three.
Obviously, on his day, Dimitar Berbatov is a really good player. It hasn't really happened for him this season but as an ex-Spurs player I'm sure he will be determined to do well on Saturday.
At the back, the captain Brede Hangeland has just returned after 10 weeks on the sidelines so that's a big boost for them. Against Norwich they partnered him with a young defender called Dan Burn who they've just recalled from a loan spell at Birmingham. The 21-year-old has done well in the Championship this season and he has done really well in the games that he's played in. I think there's every chance that he will be given his first Premier League start on Saturday.
The one thing that Fulham players have been saying about Meulensteen since he's taken over is that he does set them up to win every game. Whether that will be true of an away game against a team that is top of the Premier League… I don't know. I suspect they will play five in midfield and try and frustrate Arsenal.
I'm sure the Cottagers will fancy their chances of getting something out of the game but I think we will see a home win.
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