Gunner Thoughts

Arsenal – Fulham: He’s Ready to be a Difference Maker

While Gabriel and Saliba have their hands full with Mitrovic, who is ready to stand out in the attack?

Arsenal head into their fourth matchup of the Premier League season sitting atop the table. For how long? One can only speculate but they will stay there at least until they drop points. It’s probably fair to say Arsenal have had one of the easiest — if not the easiest — start to the season in the League, but it’s been the fashion in which the Gunners have performed that is creating confidence.

They have defended well, dominated possession in two of their three games, and shown the world they are capable of truly effective, fluid attacking football.

This week, Arsenal will have to come ready for a physical battle against an in-form Aleksander Mitrovic, and the potent threat he poses aerially and on set pieces. Yesterday, I wrote about Saliba and Gabriel having to handle themselves and spoke about the warm up they got against Bournemouth’s sizable forwards — Moore and Billing. When Fulham found success against Liverpool and Brentford, it’s come from Mitrovic winning duels and Fulham scooping up the second ball. Beyond the center back duo, Arsenal’s midfield, especially Partey, and the fullbacks will have to be alive on the scene to cut out transitions and recover possession.

Arsenal’s ability to mitigate Bournemouth’s opportunities was born out of their ability to possess the ball most the game. 70% possession in the first half, 58% over the full match, left the Cherries frustrated and down 3-0 by the 56th minute mark. “Death by 300,000 passes [and two early goals]” as Arteta says, probably.

While the Mitrovic battle ensues with Arsenal’s backline, Arsenal’s attack will look to break down a defense that has conceded four goals in three games. Both Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus have started their seasons raring to create and contribute. But this weekend could be a perfect time to see Bukayo Saka make a huge impact.

Arsenal’s right wing has been under the microscope early this season, especially in comparison to the thriving left side, but a great step forward was seen against Bournemouth. Ben White was looking to overlap Saka to draw away defenders and create options, Jesus’ touches were more even dispersed — vs the left side favoritism against Palace and Leicester City — which saw Saka given opportunities to receive the ball wide and work his way into more dangerous, central areas.

Saka will be up against Fulham’s Antonee Robinson, 25-year-old American, left back. In Fulham’s season opener against Liverpool, both of Liverpool’s goals involved their right winger, Salah. Salah scored one himself and also could have had an assist to Nunez had his ball not come off the defender first when Nunez missed his first swing at a back heel.

And while Saka may not be at Salah’s level — yet — this suggests a recent history of a team finding opportunity down the right wing.

Last week, Mbuemo didn’t find himself on the scoresheet — in fact the left side of Brentford’s attack was finish the chances — but Mbuemo was certainly influential and dangerous as he completed the most dribbles, created three chances — including one big chance — and had three shots himself with his 40 touches.

Arsenal will look to dominate possession once again, this time cheered on by a packed Emirates Stadium, and continue to show the league they have taken major strides in their consistency and to keep transition opportunities to a minimum. Part of keeping transition opportunities down is Arsenal’s 2-3-5 structure, but it’s also helped by building through your wings. The wings are safe areas to try things and look to counter press if a mistake occurs.

On the back of Arsenal’s right side looking far more dangerous and Saka being more involved, it would be a great day for him to get himself on the scoresheet once or twice. At the moment, Arsenal’s attacking numbers are thoroughly spread out across the front, but Saka is the only one without a direct goal contribution — but one fantastically force own goal — meaning Fulham’s defensive attention is likely to be focused around shutting down Jesus, Martinelli, Zinchenko and Xhaka. It provides a perfect opportunity for Saka to get involved, get himself forty touches like Mbuemo and help Arsenal win themselves three more points.

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