Would the 2018/19 season have gone any differently had Fulham stuck with the squad that got them promoted instead of spending lavishly? It was a question that was endlessly debated for over a year by pundits and fans alike.
Against Arsenal on the opening day yesterday, Fulham supporters got their answer: probably not. The Gunners dominated after a bright start from the home side, winning at a canter and dismantling Scott Parker’s side, which featured precisely none of their summer signings. The same team that had battled through the play-offs was no match for Arsenal’s outrageously gifted attack.
Yes, it was the first match of the season. Yes, we were missing Aleksandar Mitrovic. Yes, Arsenal look to be one of the top frontlines in the division. And yes, we played decent football in some spells.
But no matter the excuses, you can’t look past a 3-0 home defeat where Fulham only mustered two shots on target.
The individual defensive errors that plagued our last Premier League campaign came back with a vengeance. The display, although plucky, contained no cutting edge.
And it became clear that for all the cliches of togetherness and maintaining team spirit, the reality of the Premier League’s intense quality outshines all else — and the harsh truth is some Fulham players are just not up to the task.
As I’ve argued before, Fulham’s lack of central defensive options will doom us this year if left unaddressed. I was not surprised by what I saw on Saturday. Tim Ream botched a clearance and gifted Arsenal a goal. Michael Hector inexplicably granted an Arsenal player a free header from five yards at a corner. Such individual errors were the cornerstone of our last top flight campaign. And much like in 2018/19, on Saturday Fulham didn’t play terribly. But when we were under pressure, we wilted.
The club’s soft underbelly is maddening and is a surefire way to go right back down. It is more clear than ever that Fulham need to sign at least two new centre backs. We need competition and choices in the most important position.
Things will likely get better as our summer signings get acclimated and mesh into the team. But for now, it’s clear that Fulham cannot seriously expect to retain their Premier League status with a Championship-quality team.