Sunday marks the first time in 1,722 days that Arsenal have faced Fulham in the Premier League.
Arsenal will be hoping to pick up where they left off against Fulham during that last meeting, on January 18th, 2014. Arsenal won 2-0 at home that day thanks to a Santi Cazorla masterclass, where the Spaniard scored twice within five minutes to snatch all three points against a Fulham side which featured names like Dimitar Berbatov and Clint Dempsey. The Arsenal players that day:
Starting XI: Szczesny; Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Sagna; Flamini, Wilshere, Cazorla, Ozil, Gnabry; Giroud
Substitutes: Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Bench: Rosicky, Park, Fabianski, Gibbs, Jenkinson (the immortal)
The best highlights I could find of this match are here.
Fulham got relegated at the end of that 2013/14 season and would begin to re-build in the Championship. Fulham struggled over their next 3 seasons, finishing in 17th, 20th, and 6th before they finally returned in dramatic fashion following last season.
Finishing 3rd in the Championship table meant Fulham needed to go through the playoff to get back to the Premier League. Their playoff began with a 2-1 aggregate win against Derby County over 2 legs, and ended with a 1-0 win at Wembley against Aston Villa. Their success stemmed from the young starlet Ryan Sessegnon, who was absolutely pivotal in both rounds of the playoff. Sessegnon played a hand in all 3 goals (1 goal, 2 assists) Fulham scored in their playoff run. Despite his success in the midfield last year for Fulham (16 goals & 8 assists), Sessegnon has been moved [surprisingly] to a left-back role since the beginning of the Premier League campaign. We will likely see him in this role on Sunday.
Fulham owner Shahid Khan’s deep pockets have helped Fulham’s transition into the top flight as well. Over 4 seasons in the Championship, he had spent a total of £66.13 million in transfer fees. Upon their confirmed return to the Premier League, Khan dug deep into his pockets this summer, shelling out a whopping £98.1 million on players who could make an instant impact.
Nice maestro Jean Michael Seri, world cup winner Andre Schurrle, and Serbian number 9 Aleksandar Mitrovic were just three names on a long list of arrivals at Craven Cottage this summer. As of Sunday, those three have the most minutes this season for the Cottagers. Mitrovic hasn’t missed a second, and is a certain starter on Sunday.
Mitrovic is of particular worry for an Arsenal side which struggles against physical and versatile strikers. The Serbian front man has five goals in seven appearances, and can seemingly create havoc for defenses out of nowhere with his style of play. Left foot, right foot, header - it doesn’t matter for Mitrovic. He’ll put it in the back of the net any way he can.
I cannot fathom how he couldn’t get into a game when he was at Newcastle under Benitez.
Don’t be fooled by Fulham’s current standing at 17th. Three of their first seven games were against the current top six in the table, and after Sunday, their next run of games against Cardiff, Bournemouth, and Huddersfield will be a chance for them to jump to the middle of the pack. After 138 matches in charge, manager Slaviša Jokanović has an impressive record (62-36-39) and knows how to line his team up against a variety of opposition. The expected return of midfielder Tom Cairney and defender Alfie Mawson will leave the Serbian coach with more options than he had in recent fixtures.
Expect Fulham to play deep and attack down their favorite right side on Sunday against Arsenal. Also be sure to keep an eye out for a Calum Chambers appearance, thanks to his loan at Fulham for the season.
For Arsenal, the idea needs to be to finish this run of games strong.
Since the loss at Stamford Bridge on Match Day 2, the Gunners have been in inspired form. Arsenal currently have a streak of eight straight wins going in all competitions (five straight in the Premier League) that dates back to before the last international break. Now sitting fifth in the table, four points from the top, the Gunners have a chance to get the win streak to nine.
The man of the moment in this Arsenal side is Alexandre Lacazette, who has put in three goals and provided three assists in his last six games (all comps). After starting the season with three substitute appearances and little opportunity, Unai Emery gave the Frenchman the nod against Cardiff. Lacazette has not let his chance slip away since. A strong performance Sunday would be a good way for him to sign off before the international break, after he was snubbed from the French squad [again].
However, one man’s opportunity can be another man’s downfall. Since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been included in the XI with Lacazette, his production has fallen. As Iwobi and Mkhitaryan keep showing promise in their development under Emery, Aubameyang will need to have a strong performance to keep him and Lacazette in the same side moving forward. Our own Scott Willis wrote a detailed article about the declining production of Aubameyang which you can find here, but this excerpt is the part that stands out to me ahead of Sunday.
What is more concerning, especially this season as [Aubameyang] has moved from striker out to the wing, is that it is not just the number of shots that have declined but also the quality of those shots.
Another poor performance from Aubameyang could mean Emery thinks about changing up the XI during the upcoming two week break.
I am a big advocate of Alex Iwobi getting the start this weekend, but with Mkhitaryan not traveling to the Europa game at Qarabag, I do not see it happening. Iwobi has been quality lately, and I will be the first to admit I talked poorly of him before the season started. But since Emery has taken charge, the Nigerian has been a strong presence for a side lacking in supporting build-up. He is dribbling, passing, and making runs we haven’t seen from him before.
While Iwobi has been good, it is known that he prefers the left side, which is currently Aubameyang’s spot. Since Iwobi started mid-week, I see Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan being the outside men on Sunday’s starting XI.
Since I predicted he isn’t going to start, can we at least celebrate Iwobi absolutely ending a man during Thursday’s game?
We are guaranteed to see at least one new name on the starting sheet this weekend after Petr Cech’s hamstring injury last week. The Czech international’s injury will see Bernd Leno get his first Premier League start this weekend (unless Martinez gets the unlikely nod by Emery).
If there is any good from this injury, it is the possibility that we won’t have to hear about Cech’s inability to play out from the back for a few more weeks while he recovers.
The other changes I would predict from last week’s XI against Watford is the return of Sokratis for Holding’s spot and Mkhitaryan taking over for Ramsey.
Liverpool and Manchester City’s game after Arsenal’s Sunday will mean the Gunners have a chance to gain ground on two of the four teams ahead of them in the table, and give the supporters confidence in a top four finish.
Arsenal: Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Xhaka, Torreira; Aubameyang, Ozil, Mkhitaryan; Lacazette.
Fulham: Bettinelli; Christie, Ream, Mawson*, Sessegnon; Cairney*, Seri, McDonald; Vietto, Mitrovic; Schurrle
*Supposed to be fit to start, but will be a match day decision
WHAT: Arsenal at Fulham
WHERE: Craven Cottage, London
WHEN: Sunday, October 7th, 4 AM PT | 7 AM ET | 12 PM BT
US TV: NBCSN
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