In an ideal world we would have chalked up three points at Hull last season and come into this game full of confidence. We showed glimpses of our true quality at the KC Stadium, but true to form, they were fleeting glimpses of the verve and football that we are capable followed by a crashing fall to earth.
We simply can’t afford to allow Arsenal as much space and time on the ball as we gave Hull last week. Even without Fabregas running the midfield, talents like Nasri and Walcott will destroy us if we don’t tight to them early. All this points us to a more defensive mindset to protect our leaky defence (especially with the enforced absence of Aaron Hughes) – with the likes of Andranik and Andreasen used to shield our back four against the predictable onslaught they will face.
It would be nice if we didn’t meekly surrender like the last time Arsenal were at the Cottage. But how do you counter Arsenal’s pass and move style? They can break at pace, so pushing up is not really an option. Sititng back will invite them to come onto us and, while having them play the ball around in front of us is preferable to them getting in behind, it will only take one ball of quality to unleash the likes of Adebayor – who destroyed our hopes of a victory last season.
It will be difficult – particularly given the sheer turnover in staff since then – but it is worth trying to summon the spirit of 2006-07 when we produced a stirring display on a cold night by the Thames to record our only Premier League over Arsenal. Perhaps Zoltan Gera could fill the Luis Boa Morte role with some silky touches and pace down the flanks. He certainly needs to show a little more than he did at Hull if he’s going to prove the shrewd signing that so many thought he would be. Simon Davies will be as solid as ever down the right – but I’d like to see these two swap wings more often. Towards the end of last season, Davies was popping up all over a very fluid midfield and delivered two brilliant balls that lead to goals against Everton and Birmingham. That kind of unpredictability could be crucial against Arsenal.
It will be interesting to see whether Hodgson seperates his favourite pair of Murphy and Bullard. As we’ve discussed already, they don’t break enough bite to the midfield – and, a thought that only crossed my mind this morning, sometimes Murphy can slow the game down to a walking pace. This is not to deny that he’s a very intelligent footballer and obviously an integral part of our side, but the changes of pace in our possession football can render our attacks a little toothless.
The smart money is on Andy Johnson starting from the bench, leaving Roy likely to start with Seol and Zamora up front. Seol did a decent job at Hull of linking the midfield and the attack – he certainly seems to have gone up in Hodgson’s estimation since our tour of the Far East. I’m not the only one to wonder whether he’s got the quality to be a regular in a Premiership side or even be considered a decent squad player. Erik Nevland was introduced too late last week to make any impact – and having seen what he can do when he comes on – I’d hate to see it happen again.
The truth is that Fulham fans can’t really expect too much from this game, but we’ve always had to be an optimistic lot. An improved performance from our opening fixture is a must, but with a bit of desire, skill and fortune we might be able to take something away from our Saturday night date with the Gunners. Here’s hoping.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Stoor, Konchesky, Hangeland, Kallio; Bullard, Andreasen, Davies, Gera; Nevland, Zamora. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Pantsil, Baird, Andranik, Murphy, Seol, A Johnson.