Fulham preview: Selection tweaks, control + more end product

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It’s a 3pm Saturday kick off today as we face Fulham at home.

The big team news is the return of Gabriel Jesus who, according to Mikel Arteta is ‘ready to go’. Whether that means from the start or not remains to be seen, but having him back in the squad is big boost. My suspicion is we’ll keep him on the bench, aiming to give him 20-30 minutes in the second half, and with Man Utd next weekend, those could be some valuable minutes.

Monday’s red card for Takehiro Tomiyasu means he misses out today, and that more than likely means the return of Oleksandr Zinchenko at left-back. I could be wrong, but I can’t really see Mikel Arteta using both Zinchenko and Partey as full-backs, so there’s a knock-on effect if the Ukrainian plays. It could be good for Gabriel, as Ben White and William Saliba would shift over one, leaving room for the Brazilian to start his first game of the season.

Arteta was asked about him again pre-game, and was asked if he’d explained his selection decisions to him for the first two fixtures. He said:

Yeah, especially someone that has played a lot of minutes and games with us in the last year. I don’t know if he understands but I told him. I think he understands the reason, whether he agrees or not, that’s something different. But the best way to do it is when you play, just tell me how blind wrong, I am.

Gabriel had an eventful day against Fulham last season, making a mistake which allowed them to equalise, but also scoring a late winner. When he came on against Palace he looked very much up for it, so let’s see what happens today if he gets the nod.

The other knock-on effect of that defensive change would be someone missing out further forward. Partey, Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and Martin Odegaard could all still start, but that would mean likely deploying the German up front. Eddie Nketiah has done well, but there’s also Jesus, and Leandro Trossard chomping at the bit for minutes, so the manager has an interesting decision to make. I have to say, I like this little bit of unpredictability, and I’m curious to see the line-up later on.

With Fulham struggling a bit so far, and having lost a key player in Mitrovic, this feels like the kind of game where you’d like to see us couple result with performance. We controlled the game against Nottingham Forest, but failed to put it out of their reach – so when they got that breakaway goal, we were on edge of the seat mode for the final 15 minutes. Similarly, we had control at Selhurst Park, but the red card changed things completely.

I’m not being greedy here but I would like see control + more end product, and to be fair that’s exactly that the manager said he wants too. After Palace he said:

We have to put the ball in the net more often, especially with the dominance we are having in games.

Fingers crossed that’s something we can achieve today. I’m pretty comfortable with how we’ve played in the opening two games. Of course we can do better, but there are some fairly obvious reasons why we’ve lacked a bit of fluency. Relationships take a bit of time to develop, and hopefully we can see evidence of that later on. Even so, we’ve been good enough to take all three points in both games, and on that basis I feel pretty confident about today.

As always, you can join us for live blog coverage of the game, and all the post-match stuff on Arseblog News. There’s a preview podcast over on Patreon right now too.

A couple of extra bits this morning. There’s a typically excellent Donald McRae interview with Bukayo Saka in the Guardian for you get stuck into. I particularly enjoyed his answer to the question about whether or not it’s draining to get overtaken by that Man City side.

Also, the PGMOL statement in response to Mike Dean’s extraordinary revelation about choosing to ignore an incident while on VAR is really something – especially the last line which says: “We strongly refute any suggestion that VARs do not intervene, for whatever reason, when they have identified a clear and obvious error.”

It was not a suggestion, it was an admission from, perhaps, the most high profile referee of the last 10-15 years. To say Dean has thrown a grenade into the mix doesn’t quite do it justice. He has immediately undermined the safety net that the PGMOL has had. In that, even if you might question refereeing decisions, at the heart of it all you have to more or less believe that refs are trying their best. We can all understand an honest mistake, but this goes way beyond that.

And if Mike Dean feels comfortable making that public, what else is there that he knows better than to say out loud? After which, you wonder about all others. Is Dean just the one bad apple, or is this a systemic issue with regards these officials and this organisation? We can’t know for sure, but I have my doubts that this is simply one crazy situation that one ref got wrong one time.

The integrity of the match officials and PGMOL has been thoroughly undermined and it’s a situation which requires more than a pathetic statement and yet another apology from Howard Webb, the Chief Sorry Officer.

Right, let’s leave it there for now, catch you later for the game. Come on Arsenal.