Sports Mole looks ahead to Sunday’s Premier League London derby between Fulham and Arsenal, including team news, predicted XIs and a full match preview.
A lot was expected of Fulham this season following their near-£100m summer spending spree, but while fellow promoted side Wolverhampton Wanderers have so far lived up to the hype, Fulham have been slower to adjust to their new surroundings.
The Cottagers go into the weekend sitting just one place and three points above the relegation zone having won just one of their opening seven games this season, and none of the last four.
Fulham have shown plenty of attacking potential – led by the five-goal Aleksandar Mitrovic and ably supported by the likes of Luciano Vietto, Andre Schurrle and Ryan Sessegnon – but defensively they have so far struggled on their return to the top flight.
Indeed, no team has conceded more than the 16 shipped by Fulham in seven games this season, including three more last weekend when they were swept aside by Everton at Goodison Park. Brighton & Hove Albion’s win over West Ham United on Friday night means that Fulham are now the only team yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League this season.
Eleven of those goals have been conceded away from home, though, and four of the five points accrued by Slavisa Jokanovic‘s side this season have come at Craven Cottage – where they have lost just one of their last six Premier League outings stretching back to their last spell in the division.
Fulham do have a poor record in London derbies, though – indeed, the worst in Premier League history, having won just 25 of their 120 such matches, whereas Arsenal have the best win ratio with 123 victories from 240 capital derbies.
Some of that poor record can once again be traced back to a defensive struggle, with Fulham failing to keep a clean sheet in their last 14 home London derbies, stretching back to a 6-0 win over Queens Park Rangers in October 2011.
Jokanovic has a steadfast belief that attacking football is his side’s most likely way to survive this season, although that could play right into the hands of the likes of Arsenal – as it did against Manchester City and Everton in recent matches.
Should the Cottagers fall to another defeat this weekend then they would equal their worst ever start to a top-flight campaign – most recently set in 2005 – but victory would be their 300th in the top flight and would send out a statement that they are capable of mixing it with the big boys.
Recent Premier League form: LWDLDL
Recent form (all competitions): WDLDWL
There was always going to be intense scrutiny on the early stages of Unai Emery’s Arsenal reign following Arsene Wenger‘s exit, but he is beginning to answer the questions in impressive style.
A blip at the start never worried the Spaniard – and they went into their opening two matches against Manchester City and Chelsea as underdogs – but the team is beginning to get to grips with Emery’s style, and the rewards are showing on the pitch.
It is now eight wins in a row across all competitions for the Gunners, and another victory on Sunday would make for their best run of form since April 2015.
Emery’s plan is beginning to come together at both ends of the field too; the Gunners have scored 22 goals during their eight-match winning streak and have only conceded one goal in their last four outings, having failed to keep a clean sheet in their opening six games of the campaign.
The most recent of those came on Thursday when they ran out 3-0 winners over Qarabag to make it two wins from two in the Europa League and three successive away victories across all competitions – the Gunners have not won four since November 2016.
It was the away form which derailed Wenger’s final season in charge so spectacularly, and Emery has already won as many in his last two Premier League away games as Wenger won in his final 12 on the road.
However, despite their aforementioned unparalleled London derby record in the Premier League era, the Gunners have only won one of their last eight away games against other teams from the capital, losing five of those.
It is beginning to feel like a new era under Emery, though, and should they improve that record at Craven Cottage then they could win six successive Premier League games – including three in a row away and potentially three successive clean sheets – for the first time in two years.
A top-four spot remains the goal this season, and at the start of the weekend it is only goal difference keeping them out of those Champions League places, but with such fierce competition Arsenal will know that they must maintain this recent form if they are to return to the big time.
Recent Premier League form: LWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW
Arsenal are expected to have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back available after he missed the trip to Baku due to illness.
Petr Cech remains sidelined with a hamstring injury, opening the door for Bernd Leno to make his first Premier League start, while the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Konstantinos Mavropanos are also out.
Mesut Ozil, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi are all expected to return after being rested from the start in midweek, while Lucas Torreira should also come back into the side.
Mitrovic will lead the line once again, having scored nine goals in his last 10 regular season matches at Craven Cottage.
Fulham possible starting lineup:
Bettinelli; Christie, Mawson, Ream, Le Marchand; Vietto, Cairney, Seri, Sessegnon; Schurrle; Mitrovic
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Torreira, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Head To Head
Fulham have won just one of their last 11 meetings against Arsenal and only three of their last 30 top-flight clashes, including 21 defeats.
The last match between the two sides was in January 2014, when a Santi Cazorla brace gave Arsenal a 2-0 win at the Emirates.
We say: Fulham 1-3 Arsenal
Fulham are struggling to translate their style into results at the moment, whereas Arsenal go into the game in fine form and full of confidence. Fulham have the quality to survive this season, but matches against the likes of Arsenal are not where they will pick up the points to do so.