Seeking a fifth Premier League win on the bounce to keep Manchester City at bay, Arsenal make the journey across the capital to meet London rivals Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday afternoon.
Marco Silva‘s side went down 3-2 to Brentford in Monday’s West London derby, while the Gunners played out a high-scoring encounter of their own in Portugal, drawing 2-2 with Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League.
Many wondered how the absence of tackling talisman Joao Palhinha would impact Fulham’s chances of a positive result against Brentford, and the travelling Cottagers fans witnessed their side’s seven-game unbeaten run come to an end in a five-goal spectacular.
Despite Manor Solomon‘s header and Carlos Vinicius‘s late consolation, the Bees’ success was far more straightforward than the scoreline would suggest, as Ethan Pinnock, Ivan Toney and Mathias Jensen made the net ripple to close the gap on their fellow continental chasers.
Palhinha’s replacement Sasa Lukic was also extremely lucky not to have seen red for a second bookable offence, and despite still sitting pretty in seventh place in the table, Fulham’s European destiny is out of their own hands, with Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion all boasting games in hand.
Nevertheless, a six-game scoring streak is a welcome statistic before the visit of an Arsenal side whose rearguard has been far from impenetrable recently, and the Cottagers have suffered a mere three defeats in their 13 Premier League home contests this term.
However, 16 of Fulham’s last 18 Premier League games versus the table-topping side have ended in defeat, but their two such victories both occurred in March – 2006 versus Chelsea and 2009 against Manchester United – hardly a reassuring record for the more superstitious Arsenal fans.
For the second time in the space of a few days, an inability to defend set-pieces nearly cost Arsenal dear, as Sporting held the Premier League leaders to a four-goal draw in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 battle at Estadio Jose Alvalade.
Following William Saliba‘s opener, a defensive mix-up between Matt Turner and Jakub Kiwiorallowed Goncalo Inacio to head home the equaliser, and a freak own goal from Hidemasa Morita would spare Arsenal’s blushes after Paulinho had briefly put the Portuguese side ahead.
Lamenting his side’s recent tendency to concede sloppy goals, Mikel Arteta would have been left less than impressed with Arsenal’s rearguard efforts against Bournemouth too, but the pandemonium that followed Reiss Nelson‘s last-gasp winner soon paled those defensive concerns into insignificance.
Entering the weekend still five points clear of Manchester City at the summit, Arsenal’s lead will be reduced if the champions can glean a positive result against Crystal Palace on Saturday, but they travel to Craven Cottage still boasting the label of the Premier League’s best-performing away side this season.
Posting six wins from their last seven road games and conceding a joint-low nine goals on rival territory this season, Arsenal’s penchant for comebacks came to the fore in a 2-1 home win against Fulham in August, and not since the 2011-12 campaign have the Cottagers got the better of their counterparts in red and white.
- Fulham’s midfield maestro Palhinha will serve the second of his two-game ban for yellow card accumulation here, meaning that Lukic’s spot should be safe thanks to Anthony Taylor‘s refusal to send him off for what many believed was a second bookable offence against Brentford.
Tom Cairney could return from a foot injury to challenge Lukic’s spot, though, while Layvin Kurzawa and Neeskens Kebano remain in the infirmary, and on-loan right-back Cedric Soarescannot play against his parent club.
However, two ex-Gunners in Bernd Leno and Willian – who have been shrewd acquisitions for Fulham – will line up against their former club, while Solomon has surely done enough to warrant another start as he aims to score for the sixth game running.
Meanwhile, Arsenal boss Arteta is working around a striker crisis at present, with all of Eddie Nketiah, Leandro Trossard and Gabriel Jesus missing the draw with Sporting alongside long-term absentee Mohamed Elneny, but Jesus is now back in full training as he takes the final steps towards his comeback from knee surgery.
Even if Jesus is given the green light here – which is wholly unlikely – he will only make the bench at best, but on a brighter note, Arteta can feel confident of having Kieran Tierney and Martin Odegaard back from illness for the trip to Fulham.
Despite hailing Fabio Vieira as the Gunners’ most dangerous player against Sporting, Arteta will likely demote the Portugal playmaker if Odegaard proves his fitness, while Aaron Ramsdale, Gabriel Magalhaes and Thomas Partey are all primed to return to the first XI.
Fulham possible starting lineup:
Leno; Tete, Diop, Ream, Robinson; Reed, Lukic; Willian, Pereira, Solomon; Mitrovic
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Odegaard, Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Martinelli, Nelson