17th January 2014
Premier League leaders Arsenal go into the local derby against Fulham on the back of a four-match winning run, but with quite a few first team regular missing through injury. Meanwhile, the Cottagers are searching for their first ever away victory over their more illustrious opponents, but they clearly face an uphill task at the Emirates.
Twenty one games into the Premiership campaign and Arsenal still sit at the top of the overall standings, meaning they definitely need to be considered serious candidates for the coveted title. The Gunners did really well to recover from under-par performances against Manchester City and Chelsea, having since recorded four consecutive league wins, while also knocking out arch rivals Tottenham from the FA Cup. Quite a few of Arsene Wenger’s important players picked up injuries over this period, but the Gunners have so far managed to cope with everything thrown their way. While Olivier Giroud has returned into action, getting on the scoresheet against Aston Villa, Tomas Rosicky and Nacho Monreal are the latest casualties and they look set to miss the Fulham game. And with Bendtner, Ramsey, Arteta, Vermaelen and Walcott also sidelined, Arsene Wenger will not have an easy task of picking his starting line-up. Nevertheless, with Oxlade-Chamberlain also returning and Jack Wilshire seriously raising his form of late, the Premier League leaders should be able to extend their impressive run with a comfortable victory over Fulham.
Having largely struggled under Martin Jol, Fulham have been showing a great deal of improvement since the arrival of former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen, but they are still not showing the consistency needed to escape the danger zone. The record of three wins in eight Premier League fixtures is decent enough for relegation strugglers, while the FA Cup triumph over Norwich is likely to further improve the atmosphere in the squad despite the fact it was achieved with a second-string line-up. And while 6-0 and 4-1 defeats to Hull City and Sunderland respectively proved that the back line is not nearly as good enough for this level of competition, Fulham do boast decent attacking potential and I wouldn’t be surprised if they manage to score at the Emirates. The return of captain Brede Hangeland is unlikely to help a great deal given that he has been out for almost three months, although I am sure the Cottagers fans will be delighted to see calamitous Philippe Senderos move to the bench. Summer signings Maarten Stekelenburg and Fernando Amorebieta remain injury doubts.
In spite of the serious selection problems, Arsenal can be trusted to see off Fulham without too many problems, but I am not convinced they can keep a clean sheet in the process. The Cottagers have become much more adventurous under Rene Meulensteen and they should play their part in making this an entertaining encounter.
Verdict: Home win + both teams to score
Best Odds: William Hill