Arsenal enjoyed a morale-boosting 3-0 win against Fenerbahce in Turkey on Wednesday night, but making it two defeats out of two in the Premier League against Fulham on Saturday would see talk of a crisis once more reach fever pitch.
Last weeks’ 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day was most ill-timed following months of fans having their expectations dashed in the transfer market. And, while the midweek win all-but ensures qualification for the Champions League’s group stage for the 16th consecutive year, manager Arsene Wenger knows that the pressure remains on him to bolster his squad before the transfer deadline in just over a week’s time.
The need for new arrivals has been heightened by injuries to the likes of Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thomas Vermaelen. Laurent Koscielny picked up a nasty cut that forced him off in Istanbul but is suspended for Saturday’s trip to Craven Cottage anyway following his sending off against Villa. Wenger has admitted that he has begun the season short of numbers, if not quality.
“I'm very, very happy with the squad we have,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “When I tell you that, it's about the quality of the players I have. With the number, at the moment we are short.
“Therefore I would be a bit worried that number-wise, we are not strong enough to cope with all the targets a club like this has. We will not go into the new season with only the number of players we have.”
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The season got off to a much better start for Fulham. Martin Jol’s side opened up with a creditable 1-0 victory at Sunderland courtesy of a goal from Pajtim Kasami. The three points came at a cost, though, with new goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and Kieran Richardson forced off with injuries that will keep them out of the weekend’s encounter. The match also comes too soon for former Atheltic Bilbao central defender Fernando Amorebieta to make his first appearance. However, debuts could be handed to fellow-new signings Scott Parker and Darren Bent.
D: Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Briggs
M: Duff, Boateng, Parker, Taarabt
F: Berbatov, Bent
D: Jenkinson, Sagna, Mertesacker, Gibbs
M: Ramsey, Wilshere
Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski
Prediction: It would be dangerous for anyone connected with Arsenal to get carried away with Wednesday’s result in Turkey. It was certainly a solid performance by the Gunners, but they faced little opposition form an absolutely abject Fenerbahce performance. There is reason to be optimistic, though, against Fulham. Arsenal were undone against Aston Villa because of the opposition’s pace and dynamism going forward and running past a midfield of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere that is far better equipped with the ball than without it.
That is not a threat that Fulham possess. Darren Bent could provide some extra pace and it will be interesting to see if Jol is bold enough to select the striker alongside Dimitar Berbatov. Regardless, while it promises to be a tight affair, Arsenal may just have enough to come up with a much-needed win.
Fulham 0-1 Arsenal
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 7.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.