Last weekend Fulham made a fool of me (not for the first time) by snatching all three points from a transformed Sunderland side at the Stadium of Light. My burning desire to be right is superseded only by my incendiary desire to see Fulham succeed, so I'll forgive Pajtim Kasami, et al for ruining my pre-match analysis and prediction. It was by no means a flawless victory, but the commitment the side showed to do what was necessary to take all three points was refreshing and the defensive organization/shape even had a touch of Roy Hodgson about it.
In thinking about Fulham's upcoming match with Arsenal, I am struck by the similarities between last week's Fulham side and this week's Arsenal incarnation. Going into the Sunderland fixture, Fulham played the role of the more fancied footballing side frustratingly inactive in the transfer window and largely picked as the not-so-dark dark horse upset of the week.
At the time of this writing, Arsenal are set to make the trip to west London seemingly comically incapable of making any sort of signing, substantive or Yossi Benayoun. Additionally, Per Mertesacker is currently Arsene Wenger's only healthy central defender with Laurent Koscielny set to miss out through suspension, although Pierre Webo's right boot would have done the job if Anthony Taylor's yellow cards hadn't; Wojciech Szczesny looks just as likely to pluck one out of the top corner as he does to go walkabout at midfield; and the wheels, generally, seem to be falling off the Gunners' cannon.
Still, Arsenal traveled to perhaps the most hostile cauldron in European football and flew home 3-0 winners. So there's that.
Beware the convenient story lines.
If Fulham are going to pile pressure on Wenger's boys, Saturday is seemingly the best time to do so and I fully expect Martin Jol to go for it at home. It will be interesting to see who starts on the left side of midfield given Kieran Richardson's injury and the likelihood that Matthew Briggs will deputize at left back. Whoever is appointed to said berth will have significant responsibilities keeping Theo Walcott at bay and could well prove to be the key to the match.
Expect to see both Darren Bent and Scott Parker making their Fulham bows with Martin Jol anxious to take the fight to the Arsenal defensive third and also limit the comfort with which Rosicky, Cazorla, Wilshere, and Ramsey are able to settle on the ball in midfield.
My Magic 8 Ball has been working overtime this week, but I'm no closer to divining an outcome today than I was on Monday. It comes down to this: Left back and goalkeeper question marks for Fulham with the added complication of two hugely important players in Bent and Parker yet to fully integrate into the team versus a beleaguered but proud Arsenal side decimated at the back and coming off a brutal midweek fixture in an exceedingly hostile atmosphere.
I'm not wagering any money on this match.
Regardless, it should be fun to watch. COYW!