Arsenal return to domestic competition Saturday as Fulham visit Ashburton Grove for a meeting between two sides in very different situations. The Gunners find themselves in a spectacular run of form through a month that usually gives them trouble, while the Cottagers have been very inconsistent thus far. Depending on which Fulham team shows up, this could either be a breezy win for Arsenal or a hard-fought battle; either way, they are certainly not a team to be taken lightly.
Fulham have been up-and-down this year, with some huge performances and some really bad ones. They put six in against Queens Park Rangers and had a great battle with Manchester City in a home draw, and though they lost 3-1 to Tottenham they were able to get 31 shots and should have had a late penalty that would have been a chance to equalize at the time. On the other hand, they've lost to Stoke City, Wolves, and Everton. Fulham are 16th right now, two points out of the relegation zone. I can't answer as to why they're underachieving so much this year (they finished 8th last season). Perhaps the added strain of playing in Europe, as they qualified for the Europa League via the Fair Play table? They were runners-up in the competition in 2010 though, so it may just be a case of tough luck.
One thing to look out for came up during my visit to Cottage Talk this morning. Evidently one of the things that's been installed this year by Fulham manager and former Spurs man Martin Jol is a group of different set piece plays that they run, a bit different from the usual "shot at goal or cross to a header" free kicks. On the one hand we should be able to cope, as we've been much better this year at defending the set piece than last year. On the other, when faced with even slightly unconventional set pieces at Old Trafford we folded (granted, with a much different back line to what should appear tomorrow) so it's possible that this could be important.
Because I'm an American and I only care about things having to do with America (AMURIKUHHHHHHHHHHHH!), I will also be looking for a good performance from Clint Dempsey. Though I find him a bit distasteful (he dives, and he plays dirty sometimes) I also like him a lot as a player, if that makes any sense. He's a very versatile player, who's useful at striker, winger, and central midfielder, and can play behind the striker as well. He had 13 goals in all competitions last year, and his 12 in the Premier League was a record for an American in England. Incidentally, Dempsey's 33 career goals are the most by any Fulham player in the Premier League in the club's history. He was also voted the player of the year by Fulham fans. He's a seriously good player, and he should be dangerous tomorrow. Oh, and there's this.
According to Arsene Wenger, we'll see the same squad tomorrow that we saw at midweek against Dortmund. I would assume the starting XI will be the same as well then, unless there's a late issue with someone today or in the morning. The only other bit of injury news is that Jack Wilshere is progressing well, and will likely be making his triumphant return in the end of January or at the beginning of February. Obviously that won't help tomorrow, but it certainly is welcome news to Arsenal fans.
Koscielny - Mertesacker - Vermaelen - Santos
Song - Arteta
Walcott - van Persie - Gervinho
I run out of snarky ways of saying Robin van Persie will do something awesome. Clint Dempsey will probably elbow someone in the face while scoring a goal. Mark Schwarzer will have about 20 saves, and just generally piss me off. Gervinho will actually score a goal, and it'll be a ridiculously hard one to make up for the sitters he's missed lately. Arsenal 3-1 Fulham