Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang started the 2020/21 campaign with a goal in the Community Shield win against Liverpool | ANDREW COULDRIDGE/Getty Images
Arsenal travel to Fulham’s Craven Cottage for the opening game of the 2020/21 Premier League season on Saturday.
After relegation in the summer of 2019, Fulham returned to the top flight at the first time of asking last term. Manager Scott Parker took over his former club in the final few months of their ill-fated Premier League campaign and secured promotion via the Championship playoffs in his first full season as a first-team head coach.
Fulham are promoted to the Premier League! ? pic.twitter.com/WIuXbfyXwk
— 90min (@90min_Football) August 4, 2020
Parker’s counterpart in the Arsenal dugout Mikel Arteta is also at the start of a nascent managerial career, having joined the Gunners in December last year. A record 14th FA Cup triumph somewhat papered over the cracks of a dismal league campaign in which Arsenal ended the season in eighth place – their lowest finish since 1995.
When Is Kick Off? Saturday 12 September
What Time Is Kick Off? 12:30 (BST)
Where Is it Played? Craven Cottage
TV Channel/Live Stream? https://www.awin1.com/cread.php?awinaffid=635362&awinmid=3041&clickref=9M-LiveStreams&platform=dl&ued=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bt.com%2Ftv%2Fpackages%2Ftv-affiliate-offer%2Fhttps://www.awin1.com/cread.php?awinaffid=635362&awinmid=3041&clickref=9M-LiveStreams&platform=dl&ued=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bt.com%2Ftv%2Fpackages%2Ftv-affiliate-offer%2Fhttps://www.awin1.com/cread.php?awinaffid=635362&awinmid=3041&clickref=9M-LiveStreams&platform=dl&ued=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bt.com%2Ftv%2Fpackages%2Ftv-affiliate-offer%2FBT Sport 1BT Sport 1 (UK), fuboTV (US)
Referee? Chris Kavanagh
David Luiz is a doubt for Arsenal ahead of the season opener on Saturday | Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Fulham boast an enviably sparse injury list, though Parker has a decision to make on his goalkeeper. Alphonso Areola signed on loan from Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday, but whether he jumps in straight ahead of last season’s number one Marek Rodak remains to be seen.
Arsenal will be without several players going into Saturday’s fixture. Gabriel Martinelli and Calum Chambers are both long-term absentees with knee injuries. Shkodran Mustafi is set for a return in late October, while fellow centre back Pablo Mari could be back by the end of September.
David Luiz is a doubt for the Fulham match after suffering a neck injury during training.
Fulham: Rodak; Odoi, Ream, Hector, Bryan; Lemina, Reed, Cairney; Knockaert, Mitrovic, Cavaleiro.
Arsenal: Leno; Saliba, Holding, Tierney; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ceballos, Maitland-Niles; Willian, Nketiah, Aubameyang.
From November onwards, Fulham didn’t venture outside the Championship’s playoff spots – although they never broke into the division’s top two. After back-to-back defeats against Brentford and Leeds to begin the post-lockdown campaign, Parker stopped the rot as Fulham closed out the regular season with seven games unbeaten – momentum they carried into the play-offs.
Mikel Arteta looks on as Arsenal won the 2020 Community Shield, his second title as a manager after eight months in the job | Pool/Getty Images
At a club who recently parted ways with a manager who was there for 22 years, Arsenal had no fewer than three separate men at the helm in the 2019/20 campaign. Arteta’s unparalleled skills as an expert communicator saw him quickly embraced by the fans and, in 2020, Arsenal had the fourth-best record in the division.
While Arsenal target a return to the top six or perhaps even higher, Fulham’s focus will reside at the other end of the table as they bid to secure a second consecutive season of top flight football for the first time since 2013.
Here’s how each side has fared in their last five outings.
Brentford 1-2 Fulham (4/8)
Fulham 1-2 Cardiff City (30/7)
Cardiff City 0-2 Fulham (27/7)
Wigan 1-1 Fulham (22/7)
Fulham 5-3 Sheffield Wednesday (18/7)
Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool (29/8)
Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea (1/8)
Arsenal 3-2 Watford (26/7)
Aston Villa 1-0 Arsenal (21/7)
Arsenal 2-0 Manchester City (18/7)
Aubameyang and David Luiz were two of Arsenal’s key performers in the closing stages of last season | Pool/Getty Images
Arsenal’s last five matches have encompassed victories against three of last season’s top four; Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. Yet in that time Arteta’s side also succumbed to a limp 1-0 defeat against Aston Villa – a team that only secured their Premier League survival on the final day of last season.
Arteta’s switch to a three-man defence prompted good results against sides willing to attack who Arsenal could catch on the counter attack, but left them lacking creativity against teams prepared to sit back and defend.
Fulham tried to dominate the ball last season – only Leeds had more possession per match on average – and if they attempt a similar front-foot approach it may prove their undoing against an Arsenal side adept at capitalising on the counter.
Prediction: Fulham 1-2 Arsenal