LONDON • Riding high until two weeks ago, Arsenal’s season has taken a sudden downturn that has thrown the focus firmly on the club’s plans for the January transfer window.
Before the visit to Southampton on Dec 16, the Gunners had gone 22 games without losing and it seemed like the trajectory of Unai Emery’s side was undeniably on the up.
The defeat at St Mary’s has, however, triggered a downturn with just one win in five games, including Saturday’s humiliating 5-1 defeat at Premier League leaders Liverpool. Arsenal now sit five points off the top four and anything less than three points in the home league meeting with Fulham today will further undermine the club’s hopes of reclaiming a place in the Champions League.
Pundits have already written off their chances, with former Gunner Martin Keown claiming there was “a hell of a lot of work to do”.
He told BT Sport: “Arsenal are in the beginning of their (project).”
Injuries have not helped with defenders Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi all doubts for the Emirates clash, while auxiliary wing-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles and out-of-favour midfielder Mesut Ozil are also uncertainties.
However, goalkeeper Bernd Leno declined to use their growing casualty list – which includes long-term absentees Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck – as an excuse following the mauling at Anfield, urging his teammates to show their mettle against the Cottagers. The opposition are on a three-game unbeaten run.
“I don’t think that was the difference,” the German said. “We as a team made too many mistakes. We have enough quality, even when somebody is injured.
“Injuries were not the problem. We have to look forward because we have another important game on Tuesday.
“It’s the first game of the year and on Tuesday, we want to beat Fulham at home. We need to win.”
Defender Stephan Lichtsteiner also vowed that the team would “never give up” on their bid to finish among the Champions League places, saying: “We’ll aim for that. Until the end we’ll work, we’ll believe… It’s a challenge and one we need to accept.”
But burly Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who ended a six-game drought to sink Huddersfield at the weekend, will surely relish the challenge of pitting his wits against a makeshift and vulnerable Gunners backline that has already let in 30 league goals – five more than at the same point last term.
The Serb, who has scored eight league goals this season, has been their star player and he felt his winner “gives us confidence before facing Arsenal”.
The coming weeks, starting with Fulham, will go a long way towards shaping the remainder of Arsenal’s season.
ARSENAL V FULHAM
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