23 August 2013

Fulham Preview: Walcott will lay waste

Give some credit to Laurent Koscielny, who timed his only injury for the entire season to coincide with his only red-card suspension of the entire season. We go into Saturday's match with Fulham without the squad's best defender, but at least he's not missing two
separate games. There's not much else to do but to continue playing Sagna at the center-back with Jenkinson on the right. Ironic that we've floated the idea of moving Sagna to the center as a strategic move and are now all but forced to do so, such is the thinness of our squad. Rumors continue to float around Flamini returning. Why not? He's French, he's free, and can offer a bit of cover in the midfield and defense when needed. This would be about as exciting as this morning's breakfast when I saw that I had poured just the right amount of milk over my cereal. So it goes.

As we look to Fulham, there's some concern that they beat Sunderland. Begging pardon, but they had only one shot on goal all day and it managed to go in. True, that's markedly better than taking 20 shots without scoring, but I'm hardly impressed. Yes, they feature Darren Bent, who's managed to score on us a number of times, but the same was true of Dirk Kuyt, and we handled him well enough on Wednesday. In other words, this still counts as a very winnable game—even if the necessity of winning it has grown sharply after losing to Villa last weekend. All of our key rivals won their openers, of course.

However, I see Wednesday's win as a galvanizer. Whether through complacency, low confidence, or bad luck (read: refereeing bad enough to see a man lose his job), we got off on the wrong foot Saturday. Wednesday's win is a truer reflection of what we can do, and I look to us to carry that momentum into Saturday's match. In particular, Theo Walcott looks ready to seize his moment, having delivered some tidy runs and sharp passing but yet to score since his goal against Man City two weeks ago. Nonetheless, he's finding other ways to contribute, most notably his pass to Gibbs to open the scoring against Fener. A younger, more impetuous Walcott might have put a shot on goal despite the tight angle. I'm not saying those days are done and gone, but it suggests a stronger awareness on his part. His timing and run to receive Ramsey's pass was similarly astute. He's knocked on the door himself a few times and might have found the back of the net against Fener had he not been fouled as he collected the ball (leading to Giroud's taking the penalty-kick).

With Kieran Richardson out, Fulham will send out Matt Briggs, who's been loaned out to various Championship clubs (Peterborough, Bristol City, and Watford) over the last three years and has managed only 16 appearances in those three years. His lack of experience in the Prem (12 appearances over eight seasons) should have Walcott salivating at the prospect of running him ragged. With Stekelenburg also out, we'll see journeyman David Stockdale in the net, who has 19 Prem appearances and 100-something in so many other leagues that I can't even list them here. Long story short, though: Walcott could have a field day. We'll see. I'm looking to Walcott to get a goal and an assist as we dominate possession but show much-better finishing.

We showed much greater purpose and determination against Fener in a match we knew we had to have. Going into this match, we know we are already in must-win mode and simply have to take maximum points for every inferior team we face. Fulham have made some decent additions, but without sounding too arrogant, they are still clearly inferior to us. Let's put it way early, by all means.