The business of coming week could prove a determining factor in Fulham’s season. Following a combative but ultimately fruitless display at The Emirates, The Whites’ start to the season has been universally praised, even in the wake of their first league defeat of the season. By the time The Cottagers arrive back in North London to face Tottenham Hotspur, the beginning of the season could be deemed a roaring success, and solid start or an unfinished job that is only going to get tougher.
Much of the perception will come down to two factors; Tuesday night’s result at Craven Cottage, when Brighton become the latest visitors to the Thames bank, and how well supplemented the squad is at the close of the transfer window on Thursday night. Victory over the in-form Seagulls would certainly leave fans in buoyant spirits, while a draw or even defeat could be stomached if followed by aspirational business in the transfer market. Failure to provide Marco Silva with further squad options will likely lead to discontent, regardless of the result, as an impending feeling of “we can’t keep this up” sets in.
The result at Arsenal encapsulates where the current group is pretty well. Competitive, motivated and dangerous, but lacking support in key areas when the the going gets tough. The lack of attacking substitutes removes outlets that every team needs when trying to protect a scoreline. Having a fresh winger to drive the team forward and offer a pacey threat just helps push opposition defensive lines a little further back and relieve some of the intensity of an opponent pressing for a goal. Neeskens Kebano managed to recover from the knock that kept him out of the Brentford contest, but understandably wasn’t able to last the course. Tom Cairney replaced him, but for all his talents he isn’t the dynamic breakaway option a more natural winger like the absent Harry Wilson or Manor Solomon can be.
As the pressure continued to build in the Fulham half, there simply wasn’t the opportunity to shift the momentum the West Londoners way through a change of personnel. The Gunners introduced Eddie Nketiah, and he immediately provided a further goal scoring threat, making runs in behind the Fulham defence and causing the defensive line to drop ever deeper as the final whistle approached. We’ll never know if Fulham would have seen out a result at The Emirates had more transfer business been completed ahead of the weekend, but it’s a fair assumption that the odds of just that, would certainly have improved.
One thing that is for sure is that whoever does arrive at Motspur Park in the next few days has a job on their hands to break into the starting XI. Siva’s Championship winners continue to perform above the expected level, and as it stands any one of the current recognised first choices would have every right to feel hard done by should they be usurped by a shiny new signing. Most concerns as the season started centred on how the squad would cope defensively. Clearly short on numbers and seemingly short on Premier League quality, any predicted struggles have not manifested. The introduction of Joao Palhinha, alongside the energetic pressing of Harrison Reed and others further forward have provided protection, but individually the back four have also excelled.
Tim Ream defies his past experiences to excel, while Antonee Robinson is splitting opinion less than ever with his displays. Kenny Tete continues to demonstrate the art of one-on-one defending against some of the most dangerous wingers in world football. Some have suggested Tosin Adarabioyo is the most at risk, but the expectation level on him was different for the others, and any small errors seem to be highlighted by the fan base more than any others in the back line. When he makes important interventions they also seem to be lauded less than cult hero Ream’s. Overall the reason the team has picked up the points they have is because they are difficult to play against and don’t provide the opposition with many good chances to score.
Arsenal started the weekend as the most potent attacking team in the league alongside Manchester City, but found themselves frustrated for over an hour, and even then it was cruel deflection that eventually beat Bernd Leno, followed by a scrappy set piece. Further up, where reinforcements are more acutely required, Bobby De Cordova-Reid and the aforementioned Kebano continue to put in performances worthy of the top flight. Any new wingers will have to match their output. It’s also worth noting that had it not been for injuries, the coming weeks’ transfer activity would likely be viewed in a very different light. Wilson and Solomon have left gaping holes in the squad that until the season began, appeared to be covered. Their unavailability compounds the issue, and forces the call for more urgency. If that call is answered before yellow clock on Sky Sports News reaches zero, with Fulham having taken a point or more from the visiting Seagulls, many fans will feel satisfied that the club has a strong footing in the league, and the requisite pieces of the puzzle to continue to compete.
Marco Silva has shown that given the tools, he has the ability to create a very competitive Premier League team. A team that can break the cycle. It’s been left late, but it really is time to get down to business.