So which Fulham will turn up against Arsenal at Saturday? If it’s the same passionless side that was so devoid of ideas at Wolves last weekend, it could be a very painful evening indeed.
Arsenal have looked truly frightening at times this season. The clinical manner in which they disposed of Everton on the opening day hinted that Arsene Wenger’s latest blend of youth and creativity could have another exceptional season in them. The way Arsenal dominated at Old Trafford for an hour until a senseless dash off his line from Manuel Almunia tilted the balance of an intriguing tie United’s way was rather lost in all the discussion of diving and United’s title challenge.
The Gunners still a little vulnerable at the back to be considered as title winners – and there’s not a Fulham fan who isn’t grateful that they didn’t plug that hole in their defence with Brede Hangeland, even if the Norwgian has had something of a shaky start to this season. On paper and taking into account our early season form, Fulham should be fairly lengthy outsiders in this two-horse race. But, foolishly, I’ve been thinking over the last couple of days that we had a similarly unspiring start to the season when we faced Arsenal early last season and scrapped our way to a 1-0 win.
Wenger will be wise to our gameplan as many sides seem to be this season. Etuhu and Murphy will have to impose themselves on a game like they yet to so far this campaign. There have been flashes. Murphy’s played a clever pass here and therefore but flitted in and out of games to date rather than controlling them and Etuhu’s combative challenge on Phil Neville seemed to symbolise the shifting momentum in our win over Everton. His rasping drive at Wolves hinted at a comeback that rather fizzled out in the end, but rest assured that these two will have to be on their game if we are to take anything from Arsenal.
There will be some discussion about the final composition of our midfield too. Simon Davies completed 70 minutes at Eastlands in midweek and must be close to pushing his way back into the starting line-up. The man most likely to make way would be Clint Dempsey, who already looks jaded after a tough year. It might be harsh on the American but his performance at Wolves was the most anonymous of all of his efforts in a Fulham shirt. Roy loathes making wholesale changes so I suspect Clint will get another go.
Up front, it will probably continue to be the Zamora and Johnson show. Zamora had a storming game against Arsenal in this fixture last year – perhaps his best performance in a Fulham shirt today – and we can hope that his physicality might unsettle the Gunners defence and create a bit of space in which Johnson might just be clinical.
It’s a tough ask but we need to pick up points to avoid that horrid feeling of having to keep look over our shoulder. Roy put it best the other week when he spoke of not wanting to give the supporters ‘a heart attack’. Hopefully, we can have a few more memorable afternoons against the ‘bigger’ teams too.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Davies, Duff; Zamora, A. Johnson. Subs: Stockdale, Smalling, Baird, Dempsey, Gera, Nevland, Kamara.