All the pre-season games in the world will not replicate what we face this weekend. The Premier League starts and I guess there is nothing like the real thing to see just how well our plethora of new signings will have gelled.
Unfortunately, I doubt whether there could be a much harder fixture than Arsenal away to start with. Arsenal have been written off, by the pundits, but at a packed Ashburden Grove will be eager to prove that they will still have a major part to play in the race for the title this season. Indeed, perhaps we should just label this fixture – the acid test.
Victory would be sweet, a draw would be nice but a defeat, well isn`t that what the rest of the football world are simply expecting?
If things were tough to start with then I`m not sure if our manager, Lawrie Sanchez is playing mind games or not. Speaking at the pre-match press conference Lawrie took the opportunity to goad Arsenal by playing on the fact that the media suspect the loss of Thierry Henry could see them eclipsed by the big guns of Chelsea and Manchester United. This is what he had to say,
“I`m not sure Arsenal can quite bridge the gap between themselves and the top two.”
“When you look at the investment made at both Chelsea and Manchester United, and then see the investment Arsenal have made, then I don`t think it`s going to be enough.”
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal enter the fixture without the legendary Thierry Henry who departed for Barcelona in the close season. In his place they`ve appointed William Gallas as captain. Also missing, due to extended leave after the Copa America Cup, will be Gilberto de Silva.
Arsene Wenger will select his starting eleven from the following squad – Lehmann, Clichy, Toure, Gallas, Sagna, Rosicky, Denilson, Fabregas, Hleb, Eduardo, van Persie, Eboue, Flamini, Song, Almunia, Senderos, Walcott, Bendtner.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie
With Henry now history much of the responsibility for scoring goals will fall at the talented feet of Robin Van Persie. The Dutch striker was absent for much of last season due to injury but has looked very sharp in pre-season games. With Fulham lacking in fit centre backs, he could be the player to cause us numerous problems. Let`s hope he has an off day!
Fulham Team News:
Fulham enter the fixture with a plethora of new signings, indeed I doubt whether we`ve ever spent so much and recruited so many in a single close season before.
Unfortunately, one of our new signings, Aaron Hughes, will not feature due to an ankle injury. Jimmy Bullard will also be missing and Ian Pearce and Phillipe Christanval are both doubtful as is our new winger, Lee Cook.
Lawrie Sanchez will therefore select his starting eleven from the following squad of players – Niemi, Warner, Volz, Bocanegra, Christanval, Knight, Rosenior, Pearce, Baird, Konchesky, Diop, Dempsey, Davies, Smertin, Davis, Bouazza, John, McBride, Kamara, Healy
Player to watch: Diomansy Kamara
With so many new players it`s difficult to select one to focus on. At a push we`ll go for Diomansy Kamara. The powerful forward has a lot to prove after a disappointing first Premiership season whilst at Portsmouth. Whether Arsenal away is an ideal place to judge a forward remains a debatable subject.
Match Facts & Stats
I guess the stats prove that we could have asked for an easier start to the season. Fulham have never won at Arsenal and with us winning only once on the road last season, it really does look to be a demanding challenge to expect any return form this fixture.
The history books show the following with regard to fixtures between the two sides,
In all fixtures the current standings are – League (inc PL): Arsenal 28 wins, Fulham 6, Draws 6 and purely in the Premiership – Arsenal 10 wins, Fulham 1, Draws 1
Just looking at visits to Arsenal, the stats show just how demanding tomorrow will be – League (inc PL): Arsenal 16 wins, Fulham 0, Draws 2, Prem: Arsenal 5 wins, Fulham 0, Draws 1
Phil Dowd of Stoke on Trent takes charge of this fixture. Last season Mr Dowd, in the Premiership, issued two red cards and fifty yellow cards.
As for predicting a result, the start of season optimist in me prevents me from being a total doom and gloom merchant; therefore I`ll go for a 1-1 draw and a few shocked media hacks scribbling out their excuses for the tabloids.
After the trauma of a visit to Arsenal, we begin our home campaign with a fixture against Bolton next Wednesday evening, kick off 19:45.