Preamble: Afternoon all. Shaken off New Year's Day's hangover have we? Thinking about joining the gym are we? Going to blow the dust of the typewriter and write that novel are we? Definitely going to get organised are we? Thought 'Sod it', swept the old newspapers from the settee, opened a can of cheap lager, grabbed a bag of dry roasted to keep you going and settled down to enjoy Fulham v Arsenal have we? Of course you have. You're one of us. And you always will be …
This could be rather entertaining. Arsenal currently feel like a Fiesta attempting to plough its way through the winter mud. They've not got stuck yet - they've lost only once in 12 after all – but it has often been a slog, one of spinning wheels and lurching gains. The last three wins have all come by one goal, in the 70th, 87th and 60th minutes. Obviously it doesn't matter when you score (as long as you do), but Arsenal have not had a comfortable game for nearly a month - since the 4-0 win over Wigan on 3 December. Eventually that takes its toll.
This will be the third game in six days for Arsenal and a third in six for Robin van Persie, providing the tank tracks for Arsène Wenger's aforementioned front-wheel drive Ford. Surely Wenger has to start the Dutchman, even if the injury risk is heightened. The bumps and bruises are already likely to necessitate another rejig in the Gunners' backline.
This promises to be another awkward afternoon. Fulham are a big box of Roses of a football team. Mmmmm, the Golden Barrel of a 1-0 win over Liverpool. Ooooooh, the Caramel Velvet of a 1-1 draw with with Chelsea. BLEEUURGGHH, the Tangy Orange Creme of a 5-0 home defeat to Manchester United. But like a Country Fudge left in a cold kitchen, they're tend to be very difficult to break down. Of the nine Premier League sides to visit Craven Cottage this season only Everton, Spurs and the aforementioned United have escaped with a win (although the Cottagers have only won four times themselves, home and away).
This feels like a season of transition for Martin Jol's side. It's hard to see them being dragged into a relegation battle, but you'd be surprised to see them finish in the top half. A quiet season of consolidation might be ideal, keeping the likes of Dembele and Hangeland below the parapet and offering the chance to build something a little more exciting next summer.
The teams are in:
Fulham: Stockdale, Kelly, Hangeland, Senderos, J Riise, Dembele, Murphy, Sidwell, Ruiz, Zamora, Dempsey. Subs: Etheridge, Baird, Orlando Sa, Gecov, Duff, Hughes, Frei.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Coquelin, Song, Arteta, Walcott, Ramsey, Gervinho, van Persie. Subs: Almunia, Rosicky, Squillaci, Arshavin, Chamakh, Benayoun,
So Bobby Zamora comes into the Fulham side for his first league start since 5 December following his relationship-with-manager-knack. It's an aggressive XI from Jol, with Ruiz, Dembele, Zamora and Dempsey all starting. The Cottagers to go for the jugular? Perhaps they'll target Francois Coquelin, the midfielder who started the season as Wenger's 23rd-choice left-back but carries on from where he left off against QPR in the Arsenal defence. Van Persie, as expected, continues up front.
So as it stands Arsenal are fifth, a point behind Chelsea, who have played a game more, and three behind Spurs, who have played a game less. Fulham stay 15th and could surge into, er, 11th, with a victory this evening.
The afternoon's four Premier League fixtures saw four away wins. A bad sign for Fulham? Don't be ridiculous. Of course it isn't. It's utterly irrelevant. Get a grip.
Click-clack, click-clack … the teams aren't in the tunnel (there isn't really one at Craven Cottage), but they are emerging from the little gap between the stands.
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Peep! Off we go, Arsenal kicking from right to left. Or for those watching from the other side of the ground, from left to right.
1 min: Gervinho momentarily gets round Kelly. The full-back recovers, but as Walcott dinks a cross in from the other side, the Ivorian has the opportunity to volley at goal. He seven-irons it over the bar, when he needed to use a three-wood.
2 min: All Arsenal in the opening seconds. "A few weeks back I emailed half-mockingly from a farm in the middle of nowhere, Argentina, in the midst of a hitchhiking trip," writes Ben Simmons. "I was being served large lumps of meat and bottles of wine. I've now made my way to the mountains in Chile but football has been lost as a point of reference for conversation since the Chileans arent quite as addicted to the game as the crack den dweller-esque Argentines.. and whats more theres an unreasonably disproportionate amount of Israelis hanging around (one in three) since I gave in and settled in a hostel. Hoping an Arsenal perfomance will get me through my secret longing for the drunken Christmasy haze and Quality Street breakfasts."
3 min: Fulham break the early shackles. Arsenal head clear Riise's long throw, it drops out to Murphy, who wangs his first-time effort off towards Hammersmith tube station.
4 min: "Having rebuilt an old PC to run Linux to write a novel on," begins Duncan Smith, "dusted down and tuned my guitar to write songs on, and cleaned my camera inside and out so I can take lovely photos, I sat down having actually created nothing with a left over bottle of popular Spanish lager for a guilty MBM to have my dreams crushed by a terrifyingly insightful preamble. Happy New Year!" This is better from Fulham – Ruiz has seen his shot blocked and Zamora has almost juggled his way through the Arsenal defence.
6 min: Koscielny breaks past a couple of tackles and all of a sudden he's bearing down on the Fulham central defenders! Then reality bites back and he hammers a pass in the general direction of Gervinho out for a throw in.
7 min: Riise blocks Ramsey's cross to give Arsenal the first corner of the game. It's allowed to drift all the way to the back post where Gervinho has broken free only to volley wide and wild from a couple of yards out. A tough chance, that, but a chance all the same.
9 min: Decent block from Szczesny as Zamora gets half a yard of space and sends an angled drive at goal.
11 min: Pass, pass, pass from Arsenal …
12 min: Murphy inexplicably hands the ball to Van Persie 40 yards from goal. The Dutchman feeds Gervinho, who shimmies, flops over, asks for a penalty, and is told to stop being ridiculous by the referee,
13 min: Although having said that replays show Senderos makes contact with Gervinho's boot. Would've been soft, but not quite the cut-and-dried decision it first appeared.
14 min: Riise breaks clear down the Fulham left and looks up to see Zamora free in the box. Unfortunately for Fulham, the Norwegian's cross is heavier than a Megadeth-loving World Strongest Man contestant and the chance goes begging.
16 min: Murphy's having a nightmare. Ramsey has pinched his pocket this time and again found Gervinho in the box. Again the Ivorian is more wayward in his delivery than a paperboy riding a wildebeest.
18 min: Murphy finds Zamora with a free-kick but Arsenal smother the opportunity on the edge of the box.
20 min: Heart-in-mouth time for Djourou as his header just makes its way back to Szczesny with Dempsey closing in.
GOAL!!! Fulham 0-1 Arsenal (Koscielny 21) After another Arsenal corner Arteta's shot is blocked. Ramsey then clips in a cross from the edge of the box to find the centre-half hanging about in the sort of space usually only enjoyed by a BO-stricken shark at a mackerel-only nightclub. He guides his header perfectly into the far corner.
22 min: How on earth is this not 2-0? That's an unbelievable bit of goalkeeping from David Stockdale, just sensational. First a stunning block from Ramsey, then an even better pure-instinct block from Song.
24 min: Ramsey, picking up the ball after Van Persie's gorgeous piece of chest control (Ooh matron - Carry On Ed), looks to put the onrushing Walcott through, but his pass is 10 yards too meaty.
26 min: Djourou concedes a corner under pressure from Dembele as Zamora dinks in an inviting cross. Szczesny gratefully clutches the set piece.
27 min: Walcott skitters down the right after a lovely little flick, but can't find the isolated Van Persie in the box with his low cross. This been excellent entertainment thus far.
29 min: Dempsey clips Ramsey over on the right. "I did not jolly well touch him!" the American tells the referee. I'm paraphrasing there.
30 min: As the set piece breaks down, Walcott taps a tame shot straight at Stockdale.
31 min: Ruiz's turn to thunder forward. It's a wonderful run, ended by a cracking low shot that whistles just wide of Szczesny's left post, with the goalkeeper either judging it perfectly or, more likely, beaten entirely and happy to watch the shot slip wide.
32 min: This is tremendous end-to-end football at the moment. Van Persie clips a shot at goal from close range, Ruiz is denied by an excellent flying Song tackle. Breathless stuff.
34 min: Van Persie seems to have the beating of Hangeland. He's just cut inside the Fulham man again and stabbed a shot at goal.
35 min: The ball sits up and screams "HIT ME!" at Dempsey 25 yards out. The American does just that, but can't make a clean contact and drags his shot well wide.
36 min: Fulham's high-tempo, up-in-your-grill approach has certainly contributed to the entertainment. Zamora and his attacking cohorts are hassling Mertesacker and Koscielny when the Arsenal defenders have the ball at their feet and the midfield are pressing high. It means Arsenal have been able to pick their way through on occasion, but also given Fulham the ball in the Gunners' half.
38 min: Kelly's cross drifts longer than the Nile, but Riise wins a throw in. Chucked in by the Norwegian. Headed clear, Arsenal break …
39 min: … and the Gunners, like a certain kind of specialist interest DVD, have a four-on-three situation. Fulham scramble back and Walcott can only shoot optimistically, and weakly, at Stockdale.
41 min: Risse and Djourou seem to foul each other several times over on the left. Fulham eventually win the ball back, but the cross evades the attackers in the Arsenal box.
43 min: Gervinho wriggles through a couple of challenges and fiddles a pass through the Fulham backline, but Van Persie has strayed offside.
44 min: Ruiz scoops a wonderful, slightly over-theatrical, pass through towards Dempsey, but again Arsenal smother the danger.
45 min: Ramsey larrups a shot at goal, stinging the palms of Stockdale.
45+1 min: Murphy swings in a corner, Senderos towers above the morass in the box, but sends his header off towards the car park.
Peep! The referee brings to a close a half that has been …
An email. Or two. "Ruiz seems particularly fond of the scoop," writes Toby Joy. "He's already scored two goals this season with scoops, not to mention his regular through-balls in that manner. Give it six months, they'll be all the rage."
"Will Thierry Henry be the first footballer to play in a stadium that features a statue of him, I wonder?" writes Justin Kavanagh. Stand by for this week's Knowledge on Wednesday when that very question will be answered.
Peep!! As the teams prepare to kick off, Arsene Wenger jogs solo across the pitch from the dressing rooms. No pace, that bloke. Legs have gone.
47 min: Ruiz continues where he left off at the end of the first half, latching on to a loose ball and thwocking a shop at goal. Szczesny gathers with ease this time.
48 min: Dembele spins past Ramsey, but can't quite work space in the box. Fulham have started this half very brightly.
49 min: Arsenal have barely touched the ball this half, Fulham stringing together more passes than a hamster on Mastermind.
50 min: A talking hamster, obviously. Enforced specialist subject: Anything That Doesn't Involve Cheese Or A Running Wheel. Walcott wastes another cross. Shaping up to be One Of Those Days for Theo.
52 min: Murphy trips Djourou in midfield as Arsenal begin to get a foothold once more.
54 min: Van Persie finds Walcott, but the winger again fails to produce anything from a handy position.
55 min: Just got a little scrappy at the Cottage. Disjointed, perhaps.
56 min: Poor pass from Song on the egde of the Fulham box allows Dembele to battle back and nick the ball from the toe of Arteta.
57 min: Van Persie becomes the corned beef in a Fulham sandwich and hits the deck in the area. Again nothing doing from the referee.
58 min: Dempsey is brought to the turf by Song. The Arsenal man can only be one more foul away from a booking.
59 min: Sidwell, who along with Murphy has been a bit of a passenger in the Fulham midfield at times, zips a shot narrowly over the bar form fully 35 yards.
60 min: Dembele slides in to shoot from distance but the effort drifts well wide.
62 min: Controversy there. Djourou booked for a lunge on Dembele, but the referee should have allowed the advantage – Riise was clear on the left.
63 min: Close. Very close. Szczesny wanders out into no man's land as the free-kick comes swirling in. Senderos flicks the header on but it drifts wide of the gaping goal.
64 min: Rosicky replaces the frustrating Walcott. "Enjoying the metaphors," begins Robin Hazlehurst, "but you missed an open goal at 55 mins with 'Disjointed perhaps'. You mean: 'As disjointed as busted hippy doing turkey that is as cold as the Christmas leftovers in the freezer, perhaps'?"
65 min: Fulham go close once more. Ruiz chips a cross in. Dempsey gets above his marker, but can only guide his header wide of the post.
67 min: Fulham have had 66% of the possession this half, and they've used it well. Just need to find that cutting edge.
68 min: Murphy is replaced by Kerim Frei. He's impressed in the Europa League this season. Another attacking move from Jol.
70 min: Arsenal's turn to string passes together like our aforementioned Magnus Magnusson-facing rodent. Gervinho ends the attack with a wild shot that almost ends up going out for a throw in.
71 min: Fulham are piling the pressure on now, but can't quite create the space for a shot.
73 min: Gervinho is replaced by Benayoun. It says something for the current stock of Marouane Chamakh that Van Persie is still on the pitch. He's been anonymous and looked tired this second half. Still he's on the pitch.
74 min: Ruiz latches on to a loose ball in the area but, like an fan obsessed by I Am The Only One And Only, he picks out Szczesny.
76 min: Frei has been impressive since coming on. Yes, he's caused a stir, Frei. Ruiz fouls after another cross from the Switzerland U19 international.
78 min: RED CARD! And it's gone to Djourou! It was for a second booking after pulling back Zamora on the edge of the area. Can't really have too many complaints. He should just be relieved it's not a penalty. Dangerous free-kick instead …
79 min: … Kelly flicks it straight into the wall.
80 min: That sending off will leave Arsenal incredibly short of full-backs for their next game, but at least their next outing is an FA Cup tie rather than a Premier League fixture.
81 min: Squillaci replaces Ramsey in the defensive reshuffle.
83 min: Arsenal are now sitting deeper than Paul Robeson's voice. Fulham are running out of time to break them down.
84 min: Zamora gets a half-chance. Song makes the block. Corner …
GOAL!!! Fulham 1-1 Arsenal (Sidwell 85) … and it's there! Szczesney flaps like a pigeon in a blender, Senderos heads back across goal, Sidwell nods home from a couple of yards out. Fulham have deserved it.
86 min: Two former Arsenal men combining for that equaliser. Wenger looks seriously peeved on the away bench and well he might. His team really haven't been at the races since the break.
88 min: Ruiz flagged offside on the edge of the box. He wasn't, but his control was fluffed anyway.
90 min: Three minutes added time begin with Riise drilling a trademark effort well wide.
GOAL!!! Fulham 2-1 Arsenal (Zamora 92) That's the winner! Squillaci gets up to head away a cross but can only direct it back across goal to Zamora, who takes his time and lashes a volley past Szczesny at the near post!
90+3 min: Well what a final few minutes this has been. Incroyable, as Arsène Wenger probably wouldn't put it.
PEEP! PEEP!! PEEEEEEP!!! All over. That's a mighty blow to Arsenal's hopes of a top-four finish.
Well, well, well … A cracking result for Fulham, a miserable one for Arsenal. That's it from me. Be sure to stick around on site for all the reports and analysis from the Cottage. Cheerio!