10 min This looks a bit ominous for Fulham, who have spent the first 10 minutes chasing leather.
7 min: Good save from Areola! Smith Rowe broke into the area from the right, got to the byline and cut the ball back towards the near post. Martinelli, running away from goal, screwed a shot on the turn that was pushed away to his left by the diving Areola.
4 min Arsenal have made a confident, relaxed start. Fulham haven’t really got into the game yet.
1 min: Arsenal almost score after 30 seconds! Lacazette, 25 yards out, lobbed a lovely short pass over the defence towards Martinelli. He flicked it past Areola and just wide of the far post. He might have been offside, but we’ll never know because he didn’t score so the VAR geometry department weren’t called into action.
It’s a gorgeous, sunny afternoon in north London. The players on both sides have gathered round the centre circle to pay tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh.
“Hi Rob,” says Rick Harris. “While Charles Antaki is right to mention the Arsenal soap opera with a different plot line every week it seems, surely the imminent return of fans to stadiums begs the question ‘Will we see the return of Gunnersaurus?’”
I do hope so. He’s got a Covid passport and everything.
“Hi Rob,” says Richard Hirst. “Thanks to Charles Antaki for the consoling thought that we only have one thing to worry about, but for some strange reason I’d rather be in Arsenal’s position than ours!”
“Interesting piece on Arsenal being too reliant on Messers Saka and Smith-Rowe,” says Bill Hargreaves. “Of course this isn’t entirely desirable, but it might work in favour of the Woolwich yet, I think. As we know, the average age of the combat soldier in Vietnam was n-n-n-n-nineteen. This is because they have less perception of anxiety, and I suspect that Emile and Bukaya play with less fear than their colleagues. Now if this could take a little heat from the likes of Pepe and Laca, Partey and Ceballos, as well as putting the old farts to shame and thereby motivating them, then more power to their elbows. Mikel must be thinking to himself ‘It didn’t look as hard as this when Pep did it?’”
Inheriting Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero probably helps. I doubt it’ll ever happen, but I’d love Guardiola to take over a limited squad. It’d be fascinating to see whether he could, for example, make a silk purse out of David Luiz and Granit Xhaka.
“This will hardly be any comfort to Fulham fans, but has any club this season been as prone to psychodrama as Arsenal?” says Charles Antaki. “Of course Fulham fans are worried about relegation, but at least that is a single, fixed, uncontentious issue they can all rally around. Whereas, barring two or three players, and not excluding the manager, the board, the goalkeeping coach and the mascot, Arsenal fans have had the great luxury of being able to worry themselves to death over pretty well anybody and anything they like.”
Hello. Most of the time, the teams fighting relegation see games against the Big Six as a free hit, with any points an unexpected bonus. Fulham have exhausted that luxury. They are seven points off safety with six games to go, so it’s now or never if they want to produce a bit of the old escapology. Fulham’s run-in includes trips to Arsenal today, then Chelsea and Manchester United. If they are to have a realistic chance of staying up, they need to win four of those six matches.
It’s not entirely beyond the realms. Fulham have done well in the tougher away games this season – they won at Liverpool, Leicester and Everton and drew at Spurs. And this isn’t the worst time to play Arsenal, who are going nowhere in the league and might still be high on their spectacular win in Prague on Thursday.
That’s the positive spin. The negative view is that, if Fulham don’t win today, their London derbies next season will be against Brentford and Millwall.