The countdown is on. Scott Parker now has less than a week to put his final plans in place ahead of our Premier League opener with Arsenal at the Cottage. I’m excited about football being back, but I reckon it doesn’t compare to how I’d feel if I knew that I’d be walking through the turnstiles next Saturday morning. I pretty much miss everything about it. The smell of the burger vans, the busyness in the pubs and streets pre-game , the sounds of the fans milling around the stadium. And then there’s the actual football. It’s funny how it can be the worst bit sometimes! But the overall match day experience is something that I miss greatly.
Football just isn’t the same. On a slightly happier note, it looks as though we will have a decision on whether or not every game will be televised in some way. The relevant authorities at first said that it wouldn’t happen but after consultation with the FSA and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport there’s a chance that we will have a U-turn on that decision. It definitely makes a difference getting to at least watch the games on TV as football in the Premier League is running the risk of creating even more of a gap between clubs and their fans.
But anyway, less of my musings and on to the football.
We’ve been given a very tough opening fixture in Arsenal. They are undergoing a bit of a revival under Mikel Arteta and, unless something dramatic happens in the next 7 days, we will be facing one of the best strikers in the league in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Arsenal also have a wealth of young talent in the likes of Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah. Our back line, which is still looking far too weak for my liking, could be in for a tough afternoon. On the flip side, Arsenal have their own defensive frailties, and if I had David Luiz in my team I think I’d be in heart attack territory every week.
For Fulham, I’m hoping that our transfer business isn’t done. With Mawson and Sessegnon possibly heading out on loan, we are now even thinner at the back than we were. I really worry about Tim Ream being one of our centre backs against Premier League opposition. It didn’t work two years ago, so I doubt it will work now! Michael Hector is an upgrade on what we had before but the truth of the matter is that we don’t actually know how he will cope in the Premier League. His career has been spent on loan at clubs in the Championship so there will be question marks over whether he can step up. While he didn’t show his best football post-lockdown, he did make a massive difference to our defence so I’m hopeful that he can build on that against some of the worlds best. Our full-back positions are also questionable. I think I’d be happier if we played Joe Bryan further forward as, while his link up with Mitrovic was brilliant last season, defensively he can be hit or miss – something that we just can’t afford in the Premier League. Obviously we have brought in Antonee Robinson from Wigan and he comes with bags of potential. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod at left back next week.
To be honest, I’m not really worried about our standard of midfield or up front players. I do feel that we could do with another proven Premier League striker to cover Mitrovic and to ease the burden for goals, but I think that we have plenty of talent at that side of the pitch. Our midfield is pretty strong with Cairney, Onomah, Reed, Lemina and Anguissa all battling for spots so the big question really is over Parker and how he copes with the decisions.
Parker has been rewarded for getting us back to the Premier League with a new three year deal, but this will be a new challenge all together. There was zero expectation on him when he took the job on as caretaker boss in 2019, but it’s a different world for him now. I reckon those few months in the Premier League last time around will stand him in good stead. Whatever happens though, I hope that we stick with him. The changes made last time around were the final nail in the coffin for our survival hopes, so let’s do it differently this time around.