Fulham vs Arsenal: The key battles that will decide the game

Fulham Craven Cottage

Full-back Sagna at centre-half, the pace of the visiting widemen, Parker’s inclusion and the Giroud vs Hangeland clash will all play their part.

Arsenal travel to Craven Cottage on Saturday looking to avoid back-to-back defeats in the Premier League’s opening two games for the first time since the inaugural season in 1992-93, while Fulham have never won their first two games in the top-flight in its current guise.

The hosts put in a snatch-and-grab performance to beat Sunderland 1-0 on the opening day, while the visitors were subject to a shock 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Aston Villa.

With a confidence-boosting 3-0 win over Fenerbahce in midweek under their belts, the Gunners will be hopeful of getting their first three points of the new campaign. Martin Jol and his band of former Tottenham players will look to spoil the party however, and confirm a strong start to the new season.

Arsenal’s defensive line-up will have a real impact on the eventual result, as Arsene Wenger faces injury and unavailability concerns ahead of the short trip to Craven Cottage. With Laurent Koscielny suspended after seeing red against Villa and Thomas Vermaelen still on the treatment table, full-back Bacary Sagna is likely to partner Per Mertesacker at the heart of the Gunners’ rearguard.

Despite the fact that Sagna is an excellent athlete and solid defender, the likes of Dimitar Berbatov will look to take advantage of the France international’s inevitable positional naivety. A lot of the defensive impetus will be on Mertesacker to organise his backline, with Kieron Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson the likely full-backs.

In midfield it will be interesting to see whether Jol opts to slot new signing Scott Parker straight into his starting XI. The England international would give the hosts an extra combative and hard-working player in the boiler room that can disrupt the passing game of the likes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey.

Adel Taarabt may well feature as a second striker, supporting Berbatov as he did at Sunderland, and as such the positions the Moroccan takes could force one of the Arsenal central midfielders to drop deep to pick him up. Sagna’s decision whether to some out to meet Taarabt or leave the responsibility to someone like Ramsey could have a key bearing.

Where Fulham could be caught out is in wide areas, where Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla will look to isolate and beat the likes of Sascha Reither and Matthew Briggs, and expose the lack of real pace in the hosts’ line-up. Fulham widemen Damien Duff and Pajtim Kasami will need to track back and help their full-backs, as their Arsenal equivalents have the ability to end the game as a contest.

Olivier Giroud has started the new campaign with two goals in his side’s two competitive fixtures and will look to pose a threat to the Cottagers rearguard today and get on the scoresheet. His battle with Fulham stalwart Brede Hangeland looks set to be a physical one and again the Norwegian’s ability to contain Giroud will play a significant role in the outcome.

Arsenal are desperate for Premier League points but Fulham will make it difficult for them – the odd goal looks likely to separate these teams if there is a winner.

image: © Tom Cuppens

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