The Emirates Stadium plays host to the first of two London derbies in the space of a week for Arsenal as they welcome Martin Jol’s Fulham on Saturday afternoon before taking on great rivals Tottenham seven days later.
The meeting between west and north London this weekend involves two sides who are level on 15 points in the top half of the table, but the satisfaction levels of the two teams regarding their league positions couldn’t be more different.
For Fulham to be eighth after ten games and only two points off a place in the Champions League qualification spots represents an excellent first quarter to the season, but for Arsenal, who are already nine points adrift of leaders Manchester United, seventh place simply won’t do and the pressure is starting to build on Arsene Wenger and his side.
The long-serving Frenchman is under constant demand to bring an end to the seven-year itch for a trophy and in particular to challenge again for the title, but from the evidence of the season so far, his team are further away than they have ever been under his leadership.
Despite having the strongest defensive record in the league with only eight goals conceded in ten games, the Gunners have only won four times and in a majority of games have struggled to apply a lethal finishing touch to their intricate build-up play.
Fulham, on the other hand, have not been able to stop scoring and have an embarrassment of riches in the striking positions with Dimitar Berbatov, Mladen Petric, Hugo Rodallega and Bryan Ruiz all fighting each other for a place in the team.
The competition for starting berths is clearly working for Jol as the Cottagers are the third-highest scorers with 21 goals to their name, a record of 2.1 goals every game. No wonder then that bwin has 31/50 on the game to see more than 2.5 goals: in fact, half of Fulham’s games have seen over 3.5 goals, which is 29/20, but this is perhaps more unlikely given Arsenal’s defensive record.
As well as scoring plenty of goals, Fulham have also picked up a knack for drawing games of late, with three of their last four ending all square – the odds on Saturday’s match ending the same way are 31/10 in bwin’s 3-way betting market. Also available is 12/25 on a home victory or 23/4 on Fulham to win away to Arsenal for the first time ever.
The history books do not make good reading for Fulham at all as they have only ever earned four points at either Highbury or the Emirates, but on a more positive note, three of them have come in the Premier League era and the latest came just last season.
Thomas Vermaelen scored at either end of the pitch in that 1-1 draw last term and odds on the game ending the same way again are fairly long at 13/2, but a draw is definitely my top bet for the game and 27/2 on a scoreline of 2-2, which was the result in both Arsenal and Fulham’s most recent matches, is the one to go for.