Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Fulham

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, January 18
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Lee Probert
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Adrian Holmes
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • Reverse Fixture: Fulham 1 - 3 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 3 Fulham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 36 Arsenal wins, 8 Fulham wins, 10 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-D-W-W-W-W
  • Fulham's League Form: L-L-W-L-W-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 8 C / 47 F
"A" is for Arsenal. Oh, and I guess his son Archie, too.
One of the most daunting facts about Arsenal's title challenge is that of five teams behind them, in second through sixth place in the current table, Arsenal have to play four of them on the road: Liverpool in early February, Spurs and Chelsea in quick succession in March, and Everton in April. Of the other two teams in the top seven, the Manchester clubs, those are both home games (United just days after the aforementioned Liverpool match and City the last weekend in March.)

In addition, many of these top teams have rounded into pretty scary form in the league; they are no longer dropping stupid points: City have won nine of their last ten, drawing at Southampton in the process. Chelsea have won eight of their last ten, losing at Stoke and drawing at the Emirates. Liverpool have won six of their last eight, losing only to City and Chelsea in that span. Everton have only lost twice all year, but they've drawn eight. Spurs are unbeaten in five. United have won five of six. Arsenal, meanwhile, had their December blip, went three winless, and have now won four on the bounce.

Points are vital; a title winning club needs to take points like candy from a mid-table club (or something.) Arsenal will play 11 more matches this season against clubs in eighth place of worse; if Arsenal are serious about winning the league this year, I think they must truly consider having to win all of them: Southampton, Hull, Stoke, and Norwich away and Newcastle, Swansea, West Brom, Fulham, West Ham, Sunderland, and Palace at home.

33 points from those 11 games would give Arsenal 81 for the season. Win any three of the other six, and that's 90. With so many matches left to play, even that doesn't lock things up 100%; 90 points gives Arsenal a 98.8% chance of winning the title, but who knows how many points City or Chelsea may (or may not) drop in the spring. With that in mind, you see how crucial matches like these are. These are points you cannot even consider letting go to waste.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Arteta (calf,) Vermaelen (knee,) Ramsey (thigh,) Walcott (knee,) Bendtner (ankle,) Sanogo (back,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Monreal (leg,) Rosicky (nose)

If Rosicky plays, he'll have to wear a mask,
which will be very cool.
Nacho Monreal is listed as "a big doubt" for Saturday, though that's considerably better news than the rumor that he had a broken metatarsal. Arsene Wenger has said that there does not appear to be a broken bone, but rather a ligament twist, which sounds just dreadful. In terms of other casualties from Monday, Tomas Rosicky required surgery to reset his broken nose and could be available if the squad's depth is truly dire.

Arsenal's other injuries, both short-term and long-term, remain out: Mikel Arteta (calf,) Thomas Vermaelen (knee,) and Aaron Ramsey (thigh, though everyone is suddenly calling it his calf now) are all out for this weekend and likely the FA Cup tie with Coventry City next week as well. Nicklas Bendtner's return is probably "soon-ish." The same goes for Yaya Sanogo. Abou Diaby is back in March, though of what year remains to be seen. As we all know, Theo Walcott's season is over.

As for the line-up, Arsenal's back line picks itself, though with Monreal and Vermaelen out, there is very little defensive depth on the bench. In a pinch, only Carl Jenkinson is available to come in. With Arteta out, the holding duo will remain Mathieu Flamini and Jack Wilshere, the latter of whom really relished the spot on Monday. Arsenal do have an interesting number of wide options to play outside of Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil in the middle, even without Theo Walcott. Santi Cazorla or Lukas Podolski could play out left; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Serge Gnabry could play out right. I'd really like to see Poldi get a start; he scored twice against Fulham in August.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere, Podolski, Ozil, Gnabry, Giroud.

Fulham Squad News

Out: Briggs (hernia)

Hangeland's return is great news for the Cottagers.
Fulham have been buoyed by some good news at the back on the injury front: goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg returned Tuesday from an injury that had kept him out since December 21 and defender Brede Hangeland returned in the same match for his first game since October 21. Fulham's only long term injury now is Matthew Briggs, who has not played since August.

Aside from Stekelenburg and Hangeland, the rest of Fulham's starting XI will likely be unchanged from the squad that faced Sunderland a week ago. Hangeland will play in the center of defense along with either ex-Arsenal Philippe Senderos or Fernando Amorebieta (it's really a question of which one Hangeland will replace.) Sascha Reither and John Arne Riise are the fullbacks.

Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell play the holding roles in Fulham's 4-2-3-1, with Damien Duff, Adel Taarabt (on loan from QPR,) and Clint Dempsey (on loan from Seattle) in the attacking midfield roles behind Dimitar Berbatov up front.

Current Form

Even Sunderland put four past Fulham last weekend.
Since the December swoon, or blip, or whatever I'm still calling it these days, Arsenal have won five straight across all competitions, four of them in the league. Christian Benteke's goal on Monday that made everything all nervy for 20 minutes was the first conceded by Arsenal since Carlton Cole put West Ham ahead on Boxing Day; that's 390 minutes of football (not counting injury time) between goals. Let's try to do that again, shall we?

Fulham, this season, have not beaten anyone in the top ten and they haven't won a road match against anyone better than 15th place Norwich. With 19 points, the 16th place Cottagers are just one point clear of relegation, and their goal difference, at -24, is worst in the top flight. Their 4-1 home loss to fellow relegation candidate Sunderland on Saturday was certainly a low spot, but they rebounded in the FA Cup to win a replay over Norwich 3-0 on Tuesday to advance to the fourth round, where they will face League One's Sheffield United.

Match Facts

Medium Sized German jumps on Big Fucking German.
After a miserable opening day loss to Aston Villa, Arsenal rebounded in the league by winning 3-1 at Craven Cottage in week two. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring and Lukas Podolski added a brace in the pouring rain, as Arsenal coasted to victory. Darren Bent had a consolation goal for Fulham, because Darren Bent always scores against Arsenal.

This match last season was bonkers. Arsenal went ahead 2-0 through goals from Giroud and Podolski, then Fulham hit back for three, including two from Dimitar Berbatov. Giroud's second of the match equalized in the 69th minute before a frenetic finish. At 3-3, Phil Dowd pointed to the penalty spot in the closing seconds; Mikel Arteta's shot was saved by Mark Schwarzer. The year before that, these sides played a 1-1 draw at the Emirates, when Thomas Vermaelen scored in both nets.

All eight Fulham wins against Arsenal have come with the Cottagers at home. Fulham have visited Highbury/Emirates Stadium 26 times and have come away with a total of five points from five draws, but have drawn at the Emirates in each of the last two seasons. Arsenal have won 21 home meetings with the Cottagers, but have not done so since a 2-1 win on December 4, 2010. Before this season, that match marked the last time Arsenal ever sat top of the league (and it was because United had a game in hand.)

The Referee

"Look at your nose!"
The referee is Wiltshire-based Lee Probert; honestly, we just had him three weeks (and four matches) ago against Newcastle. It is very surprising that he's been handed another Arsenal match in such a short amount of time. Fulham will be happy; one of their eight wins against Arsenal came with Probert in the referee, on January 2, 2012. Probert harshly sent off Johan Djourou via two yellow cards, Sebastian Squillaci came on to replace him in the back four, and Fulham proceeded to score twice in the dying minutes to win 2-1.

Prior to this season, Arsenal were winless in five matches with Probert in the middle, though they have two wins from two with him this year (4-1 over Norwich and 1-0 at Newcastle.) Fulham have had Probert twice, drawing 1-1 with West Brom and losing 3-1 to Manchester United. In the latter of those matches, Probert missed Sascha Riether's stamp on Adnan Januzaj, from which video evidence brought a retroactive ban.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Sunderland v. Southampton; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
    • Reverse Fixture: Southampton 1 - 1 Sunderland
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Stoke City; Selhurst Park, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Stoke City 2 - 1 Crystal Palace
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Cardiff City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
    • Reverse Fixture: Cardiff City 3 - 2 Manchester City
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Hull City; Carrow Road, Norwich
    • Reverse Fixture: Hull City 1 - 0 Norwich City
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Newcastle United; Boleyn Ground, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Newcastle United 0 - 0 West Ham United
  • Saturday (late): Liverpool v. Aston Villa; Anfield, Liverpool
    • Reverse Fixture: Aston Villa 0 - 1 Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Swansea City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
    • Reverse Fixture: Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 0 Swansea City
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Manchester United; Stamford Bridge, London
    • Reverse Fixture: Manchester United 0 - 0 Chelsea
  • Monday (night): West Bromwich Albion v. Everton; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
    • Reverse Fixture: Everton 0 - 0 West Bromwich Albion