So it’s that time again. All the pre-season hype has led to this game. If we win, we’re brilliant, Wenger’s a genius, the title’s ours. If we lose, it’s all over, might as well start looking to 08/09. Or something like that.
I’m genuinely excited about the side this season, but I’m also in two minds about our ability to win things. Part of me thinks that we can’t come fourth, sell the best player in the world and the longest serving player in our squad, and hope to challenge for the title. But it was the right time to sell both those players, and I think the squad will play better without Henry in the side. Van Persie is clearly looking to make the step up now that he is the main striker at Arsenal, Fabregas Hleb and Rosicky may now vary their passes more rather than look for Henry, and the whole squad now has to take on more responsibility without relying on Henry to win games for us.
From pre-season we’ve seen that Sanga and Eduardo look quite good, Clichy and van Persie are sex-worthy, Hleb is better in the middle, Eboue can do a job on the wing, our defence is still suspect at times, and Song is still crap. The squad is still crying out for another winger. Even if Eboue turns out to be a revelation on the right, we still need someone to challenge Rosicky on the left, and be able to play when he’s injured. And I’d argue that Hleb, Eboue and Walcott are all not good enough at right midfield to be part of a team hoping to mount a serious title challenge, but we’ll see.
We still need to get out of two habits: Drawing at home, and losing away. Need to score goals when we dominate home games, and score more goals away. We need Eduardo to settle in swiftly, really.
Since Fulham were promoted in 2001, we’ve faced the West London side twelve times. Before this season we’d only failed to beat them once, a 0-0 draw in 2003. We’d scored twenty four goals against them in ten games. That all changed when Fulham went two up in the first half hour at Craven Cottage in November, and, a fantastic van Persie free kick aside, we were unable to hit back, a red card for Senderos hindering our progress in the second half. Towards the end of the season we got our own back, with a 3-1 win at Ashburton Grove.
Diaby and Fabregas should recover from a virus and be available, Adebayor is out with a groin problem, Gilberto won’t yet be back fit after his post Copa America holiday.
Wenger has a few options for the team on Sunday. The back five are definite, but he has to choose between Hleb, Eboue and Walcott on the right, and Denilson, Diaby or Flamini alongside Fabregas. He also has the option of a 4-5-1 with Hleb behind van Persie, or a 4-4-2 with Eduardo up top.
For this game I suspect we’ll see:
Subs: Almunia, Djourou, Denilson, Walcott, Bendtner
Eduardo will probably start against Sparta Prague.
Fulham have been busy this summer, signing no less than nine players, half of whom I’ve never heard of, so it’s not even worth guessing who Sanchez will start with on Sunday.