CC: Arsenal are still at the top of the table despite what I would call some of the worst injury luck in the league this year. How confident are you that you can hold that place and which team below you are you most concerned with?
Paul DeBruler: I'm reasonably confident that Arsenal can hold that place for a long time. Arsenal this year have learned how to win ugly - wins at Newcastle, Villa, and at home to Cardiff came when Arsenal were playing far from their best. In previous seasons, those games would have been losses, because Arsenal had a tendency to sulk a bit when things didn't go their way; this year, though, they just roll up their sleeves and work hard. and good things have come of it. I think that will serve them well over the course of the rest of the season. Can they sustain it until the last game of the season? I think they can, but Manchester City's squad quality and depth terrifies me, and in order for Arsenal to win the league, they might have to not lose any of their 17 remaining league matches, because City's coming on strong right now and show no sign of slowing.
CC: Do you expect many new additions in this window? I suspect that the team could use cover at both holding midfield and at striker, but it might be hard to bring in players who know they won't start. What do you expect to happen?
PD: Arsene Wenger is notorious/famous (delete as applicable) for never doing too much in the January transfer window, because most good players are Champions League cup-tied, and those that aren't command a large premium. Wenger, with his economics background, is loath to pay over the odds for anyone just for the sake of doing it. That said, there's been a lot of noise about Arsenal buying Julian Draxler this month, which would seem to fall under the Özil-inspired heading of "get him at all costs if he's available because it's amazing he's available". Draxler just hurt himself, though, so I'm not sure what that does to those rumblings. Other than that, it's mostly quiet on the Arsenal transfer front.
CC: Finally, it always seems that Fulham and Arsenal matches are much closer than they have any right to be. I remember a win and a draw in 2011-2012. I remember the 3-3 draw at the beginning of 2012-2013 where I felt Fulham were the better squad for much of the game. In the return fixture only a Per Mertesaker goal separated the clubs. Even in this years first fixture I though Fulham played some of their best football under Jol despite the scoreline. Is there any logical reason for this, or is this just dumb luck?
PD: don't mean this in any sort of demeaning or derogatory way, but Arsenal in the past few years have had the tendency to play down to the level of their opponents. As I alluded to before, if teams refused to allow Arsenal the space to play their style of soccer, Arsenal would sort of fold up their tent and give up, which made things a lot harder than they needed to be. This year, that tendency has more or less been eliminated; I'm not going to say that Arsenal will beat up on Fulham mercilessly, but I don't think you'll see the same timidity from the Arsenal attack as you saw at times last season.
Projected lineup, and score prediction
PD: Just so Cottagers Confidential readers know, I'm notoriously bad at/scared of/loath to do predictions. So take these with a Costco-sized grain of salt, and also note these were done on Wednesday; Arsenal players tend to injure themselves a lot, so who knows what could happen in the next 48 hours. Anyway!
Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Wilshere, Özil, Cazorla, Flamini, Podolski, Giroud.
With that lineup, I think Arsenal have enough to beat Fulham 3-1, but that third goal won't happen until the 91st minute, making for a nervy second half.