After Saturday’s win over Queen’s Park Rangers, Arsenal face a quick turnaround as they face Fulham at Craven Cottage 48 hours later.
The Gunners have reached the top four in the table for the first time this year following their 1-0 victory over QPR. Though fourth is certainly not the goal, after Arsenal’s tepid start few would argue fourth is a good place to be at the campaign’s midpoint.
Starting the Second Half of the Season
This will be Arsenal’s 20th game of the Premier league campaign, and the first time they will face a team in the Premier League for the second time. In the two team’s first encounter at the Emirates, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, with Thomas Vermaelen scoring the goal for both teams. This was a game of missed chances for Arsenal, who saw Fulham score against the run of play and failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities of their own.
After picking up some sort of injury against QPR Saturday, Vermaelen may miss out on a chance to score another against the Cottagers, leaving the Gunners even shorter at the back. The squad will get even thinner in the coming weeks as Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh will head to the African Nations Cup. With the transfer window about to be open, Arsene Wenger needs to add to the squad sooner rather than later.
If Arsenal starts the second half of the season like they did the first, the top four may be out of reach. A win against Fulham is needed keep the momentum going, with Arsenal winning 10 of their last 13 league matches, taking 32 of a possible 39 points.
Three Games in Seven Days
This match will be the Gunner’s third in seven days, which will lead to interesting selection decisions for the Professor. Gervinho and Chamakh will likely be playing in their last Premier League match for awhile, and Gervinho was rested for most of the match against QPR, so he should start. Chamakh will probably be in his usual spot on the bench.
Wenger used his substitutes earlier than usual on Saturday, likely to give some of his players a bit more rest. The most interesting decision will be regarding Robin Van Persie. The captain has remained fit so far this campaign, but the injuries of his past still remain prevalent in the minds of most Gooners. That fact will not be lost on Mr. Wenger as he decides whether or not to start the Premier League’s leading scorer, or rest him.
Defensively, if Vermaelen is out, I expect to see Francis Coquelin get the nod at left back (there really aren’t a lot of other options). The young Frenchman played pretty well at the position after replacing the injured Vermaelen Saturday. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker should continue in the middle of defense, as they have been a solid pairing so far this season, with Koscielny becoming one of England’s premier defenders and a full French International.
This may also be a chance to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at least be used as a substitute. The Ox, who has shown flashes of brilliance in his few matches, seems poised to make an impact for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger has been reluctant to use him so far during the Premier League season, but may need to with the club having played so many games recently.
We are also left to wonder what role exactly Park Ju-Young has to play over the coming weeks. Yet to get any significant playing time, the absence of Gervinho and Chamakh may open the door to him being on the pitch. Or, he may remain in the shadows. I have to say this has become a very curious piece of business from Mr. Wenger, and you have to wonder if Park is ruing his decision not to join French Champion’s Lille this past summer.
In the Training Room
Arsenal is still without Abou Diaby, Bacary Sagna, Andre Santos, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere. No word yet on the Vermaelen injury, but it seems likely he won’t take part in Monday’s game. Selection for this match will likely come down to who is in the best condition following the first two games of the past seven day period.
No Arsenal players will miss this contest through suspension.
Szczesny – Djourou – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Coquelin – Song – Arteta – Rosicky – Gervinho – Van Persie - Walcott
Setting the Tone
This match could set Arsenal off to a positive start to 2012 and specifically what could be a tricky January slate of matches. After the Fulham match, Arsenal next plays January 9th at home against Leeds United in the FA Cup. The Gunners also have a trip to Wales to take on Swansea City and a home date with Manchester United in the league. January would then wrap up with a potential fourth round FA Cup tie and a trip to bottom of the league Bolton.
If Arsenal can keep up the positive momentum through January, their Champions League round of 16 tie with AC Milan looms in February. With the right results to start the year, and a few additions to the squad and Arsenal will be set for a good 2012.
New Year, Same Goal: Trophies
Happy New Year to all the Gooners out there. Here’s to 2012 being the year Arsenal end their silverware drought. We’ve celebrated the club’s 125th Anniversary, now hopefully we can celebrate its next accomplishment.
Happy New Year.
Follow Jimmy Gossard on Twitter @JimmyGossard