After a shorter break than usual, the Premier League is back this weekend and Fulham kick the campaign off at home to Arsenal. Mikel Arteta will be seeking a strong start as the Gunners look to regain Premier League respectability and at least attempt to finish in the top four. But will Fulham provide a banana skin on the opening weekend?
Fulham have been here before, having won the play-off final back in 2018. What followed was as dismal a top-flight campaign as any in the club’s history.
Supporters will hope the club have learned their lessons. There has been no spending splurge this summer and, despite some criticism from the fan base at the tail end of last season, Scott Parker has been rewarded for promotion at the first time of asking with a three-year contract.
Arsenal are strong favourites in the betting to brush Fulham aside on Saturday and, if the steely side Arteta has turned them into recently turns up, things could get messy for the hosts.
But, much like their season as a whole, it’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or bust for the north London side. He leads from the front and, if he doesn’t find the back of the net, who will?
Fulham are still hoping to finalise some new signings before the Premier League’s curtain raiser, while Mario Lemina and Harrison Reed should be available following their successful summer transfers. Parker will be hopeful Aleksandar Mitrovic is fit as a fiddle for the upcoming campaign, following his injury troubles ahead of August’s play-off final.
While Aubameyang is yet to finalise a new contract at Arsenal, one man who did put pen to paper over the summer was Willian, moving across London from Chelsea. The Brazilian will be available for selection, as will Dani Ceballos, who does not need to quarantine as he was part of the Real Madrid ‘bubble.’
Without any new additions to the injury list, Arsenal’s main fitness doubts remain Gabriel Martinelli, Pablo Mari, Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers. This puts the onus on another summer signing, Gabriel Magalhaes, to start at centre-back.
If the side that knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup, beat Chelsea in the subsequent final and held Liverpool at bay during the Community Shield turns up on Saturday, Fulham fans may as well write this one off. But that’s the main problem for Arsenal: while their squad is always pumped up for a huge cup match, the very same team will lose at Brighton and Aston Villa, looking worlds apart.
If Arteta can instil the right mentality this weekend, Arsenal should have too much for Fulham – especially with Aubameyang in red-hot form. If not, though, Parker has a resolute, disciplined side at his disposal and is more than capable of frustrating the visiting Gunners.
As odds-on favourites, Arsenal actually present some risk at such a short price when you take their away woes into account. And, with Fulham on a high from their play-off success – achieved through rather pragmatic means – there could be value in taking on double chance (Fulham/draw) at 6/4 with Sky Bet.
All it will take is some stubborn defending, and doubt and frustration could creep in for the visitors. For punters who think this is too big a step up for Fulham too soon, however, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is 16/5 with Sky Bet to score 2+ goals.