Arsenal host Fulham on Saturday as they look to maintain their grip on top spot in the Premier League.
The Gunners overcame a tough test in Aston Villa on Monday to return to top after they were temporarily dislodged over the weekend and will look to build upon that and maintain their form against a Fulham side that have been leaking goals lately.
Fulham have climbed to 16th recently, but will be more than aware that only one point separates them from the bottom three and defeat at the Emirates could well see them drop back into the relegation zone if other results go against them.
Arsenal won 3-1 at Craven Cottage in the return fixture in August.
Arsenal have a few more concerns to add to their growing injury list, with Tomas Rosicky and Nacho Monreal having picked up problems in the Villa victory, Rosicky breaking his nose, while Monreal has a foot fracture that will keep him out for a couple of months.
Mikel Arteta is still unavailable in the centre of the park, but the Gunners could well have Aaron Ramsey available after a month out with a groin tear, whilst Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made his return from injury as a late substitute at Villa Park.
Fulham are fairly injury free, but will not be able to call upon Bryan Ruiz at all, after the Costa Rican international finalise a move back to Holland, joining PSV Eindhoven on loan for the remainder of the season.
They do have Brede Hangeland available to shore up a defence that has leaked goals like crazy in the Premier League, with the Norwegian making his return in the 3-0 FA Cup third round replay victory over Norwich, while Maarten Stekelenburg is back between the sticks to replace David Stockdale.
We will have to wait and see whether Ramsey is risked given his recovery from a muscle injury, and one would think that given the issues Arsene Wenger has had with rushing players back, he may be cautious and leave the Welshman on the bench.
Kieran Gibbs returns from his knock in timely fashion to take over from the crocked Monreal, while Rosicky’s absence should well ensure that Serge Gnabry maintains his place in the first team.
4-2-3-1: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Wilshere, Cazorla, Gnabry, Ozil, Giroud
Rene Meulensteen has the difficult decision on whether to return to his league team that were embarrassed at home by Sunderland at the weekend, or to reward a few of his cup team with league starts following their polished performance to see off Norwich.
Stekelenburg and Hangeland will keep their places after making their comebacks in that game, while Darren Bent could also be given a league start after netting in two of the past three games, with the likelihood of Adel Taarabt being the man to drop to the bench.
4-2-3-1: Stekelenburg, Riether, Hangeland, Amorebieta, Richardson, Sidwell, Parker, Duff, Dempsey, Berbatov, Bent
Since their blip in December, Arsenal have bounced back with aplomb, winning four straight league games as well as securing victory over local rivals Tottenham in the FA Cup.
Fulham recorded a much needed win against Norwich in the cup to relieve some early pressure on Rene Meulensteen after the 4-1 defeat at home to Sunderland. They have two league wins against fellow strugglers Norwich and West Ham in their last six games, but have conceded four or more goals in the other four as they’ve slipped to defeats.
Player To Watch
Arsenal – Santi Cazorla
There have been some murmurings that Cazorla has not lived up to his performances from last season this time around. However, given that Arsenal went through their blip in which the Spaniard didn’t play in two of the three games, that may have been a slight overreaction.
Since returning to the side, Arsenal have won four out of four, with Cazorla creating nine chances in those games, claiming one assist and scoring the opening goal in the FA Cup victory over Spurs.
He has completed six out of his ten attempted take-ons in that time and managed 11 shots, as his attacking prowess has come back to the fore, which could prove key to unlocking a Fulham team that will come to limit damage.
Fulham – Brede Hangeland
It is vital for Fulham that they welcome Brede Hangeland back into the fold to help shore up a defence that has leaked like a sieve, conceding four or more four times in the last six games.
Hangeland has missed the last 13 games, in which Fulham won as many games (3) as they did with the big man in the eight games he featured in the back-line.
In that time he made six blocks and a massive 52 clearances, while he won 48% of his headed duels.
It seems a forgone conclusion as to which way this result will go, as a Fulham victory would have to be considered one of the upsets of the season.
Arsenal have swatted aside other relegation candidates on this rather nice run of games that they’ve had recently and it’s hard to imagine they’ll anything less to a Fulham side that have been thumped by the likes of Hull and Sunderland in recent times.
Arsenal 4-1 Fulham