First match of the season is always fun. It sometimes throws up a surprise but rarely has a bearing on the rest of the season. This one is a London Derby between hopefuls for the Premiership Championship and contenders for relegation to the Championship.
Arsenal, as a club, is still in a state of change. Arsene Wenger is in the process of building another team having lost many big names in the last two seasons. With the loss of Viera, Ashley Cole, Reyes, Pires and now Thierry Henry and Freddie Lungberg, this season will be a big one for the youngsters. In particular, a lot will rest on the attacking options provided by Cesc Fabregas from midfield and Dutchman Robin van Persie up front. If either of these is out for long periods of time it is unlikely that Arsenal will be able to compete with the other big guns.
Fulham, on the other hand, should be just happy to maintain its Premiership status. Chris Coleman, the young manager of four years was ousted in favour of Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez. Sanchez had made Northern Ireland into a very difficult team that was punching well above its weight in the Euro 2008 qualifiers. He was the manager that took Wycombe Wanderers to an FA Cup semi-final in 2001 and also a member of the Wimbledon ‘Crazy Gang’ that won the 1988 FA Cup, scoring the winner against Liverpool. He needs to bring all of that experience just to achieve survival. Bringing in a quarter of the Northern Ireland team seems a way of achieving this but that crazy-gang mentality is still going to be required. The signing of David Healy, in particular, could be the cornerstone of success. Healy had a torrid time at Leeds United, rarely getting games in a season where the Yorkshire club was relegated. However, his form for Northern Ireland has been inspirational, with a scoring record better than one every other game.
This game should be a foregone conclusion. Arsenal maybe in the process of change but they have a great deal of quality. Recent seasons have seen them lose games that they should have won comfortably but this should not be one of them. I would expect them to win comfortably and possibly a rout but take nothing for granted against the under-dog with the new manager. Expect a good fight from Fulham but eventually to be overwhelmed by Arsenal’s class.
Prediction : Home win