Preview: Fulham vs. Arsenal

Preview: Fulham vs. Arsenal

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 Kiwior allowed 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 Premier League form:

Fulham form (all competitions):

Arsenal Premier League form:

Arsenal form (all competitions):

We say: Fulham 1-2 Arsenal
With star striker Mitrovic fit and firing again, Fulham ought to have no problems troubling a permeable Arsenal backline, especially with the Gunners facing a rapid turnaround from their Europa League exertions on Iberian soil.

However, Brentford needed no second invitation to expose the Cottagers’ weaknesses with Palhinha absent, and Arsenal’s well-rested first-teamers ought to do the same as they pass another challenging test of their title credentials.

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