19 April 2013

Craven Cottage: Giroud's Gonna Crush 'Em

Fulham's trip to the Emirates back in November was a slap-stick affair with six goals scored and what might've been seven if Arteta's last-second PK had gone in. As it was, the penalty itself was a bit harsh as Fulham's Riether had tucked his left hand behind his back only to see Arshavin's chip/shot/pass hit him in the arm anyway. So it goes.
We really should have put them away after scoring twice in the first 25 minutes, but we let them scrape their way back in. The game came for us in the midst of an early-season stagger: the 1-0 loss at Norwich, a dicey 1-0 win over QPR, a close 2-1 loss at Man U, the 3-3 with Fulham, and then the 5-2 win over Spurs. We were up and down all through October and November, in short. A certain Frenchman will remember his first encounter with Fulham fondly, though, as he put his signature on that game emphatically and settled into the Prem. Olivier Giroud owned that match with two goals (and could have had netted a third but for the trifling detail that goals must have woodwork to hang the nets from). The match marked a four-game stretch for Giroud in which he tallied four goals and two assists.

He's been knocking on the door loudly again in the last few matches, having scored three times in his last five appearances, but being guilty of quite a few near-misses as well. Especially after the Everton match, he'll be looking to make amends, and resurrecting the form he showed against Fulham in the fall would be a splendid way to do it. It wasn't just scoring that made it special; according to whoscored, Giroud put three of his seven shots on target, won six aerial duels, and had three clearances. In short, it was the kind of dominating performance we had come to hope for after signing him. We've learned to temper those expectations, but I wonder if le buteur de charme is ready to seize the opportunity that Fulham proffers. Fulham sports some size across its back line, but Giroud showed last time out that he was more than capable of holding his own.

They're in rather diffident form, these Cottagers, having settled into that just-right Goldilocks zone of the table: not so close to the top to aspire, not so close to the bottom to scrabble. In fact, they could win all of their remaining games and finish no higher than 7th, or they could lose all of their remaining games and finish no lower than 18th (relegation-zone, I know, but the larger point remains that Fulham is in pretty comfy environs at the moment). With that in mind, they've only taken 8 points in their last six games, including draws with Sunderland and Aston Villa, and a loss to Newcastle. Getting dusted 3-0 by Chelsea at home suggests that they just might be pulling up the tent stakes on the season. Then again, they could be fired up after losing badly at home.

Either way, we would be remiss to overlook or underestimate them. Even though their early-season scoring sprees seem to have largely disappeared (dropping from 1.7 gpg before January to 1.0 gpg since the New Year), they did go into White Hart Lane and win a few weeks ago. They don't seem to have any major injuries to slow them down, so we'll have to keep a close eye on Berbatov, scorer of 13 goals this year (including two against us). They're nothing particularly special at home, with 7 wins, 3 draws, and 6 losses; and they have only a +3 goal-differential. I'm looking to Giroud to put us ahead inside of 29 minutes (I like prime numbers) and for Oxlade-Chamberlain, as a dark-horse entry, to come on and score one of his own.

In the midfield, I wonder if Wilshere should be rested, at least for the first half, after his slog through the Everton match. Rosick√Ĺ is fit, but I think I might prefer to see Oxlade-Chamberlain get the nod. He seems to sow chaos for opposing backlines, whether it's actual assists or drawing fouls in or around the box. There might some other rotation after the Everton match; Mertesacker is available again, and I'd like Podolski to join his BFFF on the attack. The extra F is for "French".

By contrast with the Everton match, this is a match from which we really should and must take all three points. Spurs face Man City and Chelsea faces Liverpool, so we see a strong opportunity to put some space between us and Spurs and maybe even overtake Chelsea, athough both of them currently have a game in hand on us. All the same, the right combination of results this weekend could see us in third place. I'm ready to concede 2nd place to Man City as they're eight points above us with a game in hand, so it's more important for us to seek distance from Spurs than to reel in City.

Right. We have a chance to claim seven points from nine in one week. Time to put our shoulders to the wheel.