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Fulham v Arsenal: New Season, New Beginnings

By Alex Trad

West vs North London. Relegation favourites vs top four hopefuls. The 2020/21 Premier League season is at last upon us, and tomorrow’s curtain-raiser should prove an enticing matchup.

Whilst Fulham enjoyed an excellent domestic campaign in the Championship- securing promotion via a 2-1 playoff final victory at Wembley- Arsenal endured a torrid twelve months of unprecedented lows, managerial dismissals, relegation scares and above all disappointment in 2019/20. Not to mention Unai Emery’s side began the season in relatively high spirits, only to flirt with relegation come December.

Now, though, in Mikel Arteta we finally have a man with the tactical nous and determination to take Arsenal into a new era of domestic success. Since being appointed 9 months ago, the Spaniard has instilled a renewed sense of optimism and resolve into what was once a jaded group of players, evidenced by his two-trophy haul and the plethora of encouragement and backing he has received from his colleagues and supporters alike.

Indeed, collecting silverware requires a strong squad mentality- but few tests come harder than performing well throughout an entire 38-match League season. If his first full season in charge is any indication of what’s to come, Mikel Arteta will expect nothing less than a top four finish and subsequent Champions League qualification this year. Such is the extent of his managerial ambition.

So without further ado, below is my preview on tomorrow’s tactical clash at Craven Cottage!

Fulham’s season ended in late-July after securing a swift return to the Premier League that followed a disappointing relegation the year prior. Under head coach Scott Parker, who has occupied the role since February 2019, the Cottagers appear a completely different side to what they were under previous rule, employing a progressive and fluid brand of football that took the second division by storm across the last twelve months.

The West London outfit head into tomorrow’s encounter off the back of an impressive stretch of form, having collected 17 out a possible 21 points remaining to clinch fourth spot.

One opponent to keep a close eye on has to be clinical striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who finished as Championship top-goalscorer with 26 goals in 2019/20. Stating that, their over reliance on the Serbian striker is an area of their game that we can easily exploit by selecting physically able defenders. William Saliba immediately springs to mind. In fact, Fulham’s 64 goal tally last season was shared between a league-low 11 players, so curtailing their primary attacking outlet is precisely what may give Arteta the defensive security to push forward for a positive result.

In terms of transfer arrivals, Fulham have completed the surprising loan acquisition of PSG shot stopper Alphonse Areola on top of turning loan contracts into permanent deals for first-team regulars Anthony Knockhaert and Harrison Reed. Add to the mix a crop of youth talents emerging from the club’s academy setup, and the Cottagers could surprise their doubters this coming season.

As for Arsenal’s season run-in, it’s been a summer of spending yet no offloading, bringing in Willian and Gabriel from Chelsea and Lille, respectively, with at least 10 fringe squad member’s wages imposing a burden on the club’s recruitment potential. Arsenal head into tomorrow’s matchup with 35 first-team members in the makeup, from talismanic captain Aubameyang to sliding-tackle merchant Sokratis.

After serving their respective quarantines following holidays abroad, this week saw Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe return to North London and both participate in Arsenal’s 3-2 friendly defeat to Aston Villa before an empty Emirates Stadium. As such, both could play a part tomorrow or make substitute cameos off the bench.

Between the sticks, both Bernd Leno and Emiliano Martinez are competing for the no. 1 role at Arsenal. But with Martinez approaching a £20m switch to Aston Villa, Arteta will most likely field the German shot stopper in what would be the latter’s first Premier League game since June.

Reports emerging this week claim David Luiz sustained a mild to moderate neck injury in training this past week, with the club’s medical personnel reportedly suggesting that the 33-year old Brazilian observe a 4-6 week recovery period. As a result, Rob Holding is in line to start alongside William Saliba tomorrow.

Luiz’s injury, along with Mari and Chambers’ lengthy spells on the sidelines, Sokratis’ imminent departure and Gabriel Magalhaes’ lack of full match fitness all contributed to Arteta’s decision to block Holding’s loan move to Newcastle United. 

In midfield, we could see returns for Dani Ceballos and, against all odds, Mesut Ozil. The German playmaker recently marked his first appearance for the club since the League’s abrupt suspension back in March and elucidated his desire to take to the pitch once again, claiming he’s “fit and ready” for selection via a Twitter Q&A on Wednesday.

But, a double pivot looks a more sensible formation than one that employs a no. 10, so I expect Granit Xhaka to partner either Ceballos or Elneny at the heart of the pitch. Keep in mind Lucas Torreira’s move back to the Serie A is nearing completion, with Torino reportedly having won the race for the Uruguayan’s signature.

It’s possible that we see the return of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette’s partnership up front, with the Gabonese forward on the flank whilst the Frenchman would lead the line. If not Pepe, summer signing Willian or rising talent Bukayo Saka would occupy the right flank.

Predicted lineup: Leno, Saliba, Holding, Tierney, Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles, Saka, Lacazette, Aubameyang. (3-5-2)

Score prediction: Fulham 0-2 Arsenal

And it’s live!

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