Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fulham vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

Arsenal will try to produce an impressive performance at the Craven Cottage this Saturday to make up for a poor show against Birmingham last weekend. The Gunners fell to second place on goal differential last week after Manchester United routed a manager-less Newcastle side 6-0. Arsenal, who drew 1-1 with relegation-threatened Birmingham at the Emirates, will be looking for a full three points at Fulham and hoping that United slip up at Reading.

Fulham could be the perfect rebound team for the Gunners, as the Cottagers are winless in 10 Premier League games. Although new Fulham manager Roy Hodgson will be desperately hoping to take home his first Premier League point since taking over, even a draw may be elusive against what should be a fully fit Arsenal team.

The Cottagers, who will be missing American internationals Kasey Keller and Brian McBride, could find themselves overwhelmed by the returns of Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie to the Arsenal side. Low morale, coupled with additional injuries to Hameur Bouzza and Ian Pearce could mean that Hodgson will be facing an exercise in damage reduction.

On the other hand, Arsenal players hoping to prove themselves after the disappointing show against Birmingham will be looking to display some of the fine flowing football that placed them at the top of the table. The possible return of the prolific van Persie will also boost the Gunners confidence ahead of the clash.

Arsene Wenger will likely start with a similar lineup to the one that faced Birmingham, although Theo Walcott and Eduardo could see themselves ousted in favor of Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky and injury-prone striker Robin van Persie.

This means that Manuel Almunia will start in goal behind Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Gael Clichy, and the vastly improved Philippe Senderos. Senderos, standing in for Kolo Toure who is away at the African Cup of Nations, played what may have been his best game in the red and white of Arsenal against Birmingham. Normally error-prone and out of position, this time the Swiss defender managed to use his height to get onto a few headers, and even came close to scoring a winner for the Gunners.

The Arsenal midfield was complacent against Birmingham, but hopeful the return of Rosicky will add some creativity to the already ingenious lineup of Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb, and holding midfielder Mathieu Flamini. Rosicky should register a performance far better than last week's woeful appearance from Theo Walcott.

Up front Robin van Persie may finally link up with the squad after falling victim to bone and muscle injuries as well as a recent virus. Emmanuel Adebayor, the second highest scorer in the Premier League, will be looking to bag a few goals to inch closer to United's Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Golden Boot.

We learned last season that no game can be taken for granted. Arsene Wenger learned that lesson a second time against Birmingham last week, and his entire squad will be looking to rebound from the draw with an emphatic win at Fulham. I predict a 3-0 victory.