Big scalp hunting

Posted by Phil Mison

A sell out at the Cottage for our first home game of the new season - and a local derby to boot - guarantees a terrific atmosphere against one of the iconic clubs of English football. Arsenal boasts the proud record of never having been relegated on their elevation to the top flight when football resumed after the Great War.

• Mison:Fulham build momentum

Parity was restored between our two clubs once Jean Tigana brought Fulham back up to the top table in a blaze of glory, but even a point against our north London rivals was a rare luxury in early encounters, a period when Arsene Wenger's "Invincibles" carried all before them.

Dennis Bergkamp was the big signing that got the ball rolling. Allied to home grown talent like Tony Adams and Ian Wright, Wenger then added half the French World Cup winners in Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry to parade the best eleven I have seen since the double-winning Spurs side of the early 60's. A stunning blend of artistry and expression welded on to unmatched defensive organization.

Although, as a club, we have never in over 50 years managed an away win over them, I still remember fondly the night Brian McBride led the Whites to a mid-week win at the Cottage, and more recently the ecstasy of Bobby Zamora's last minute volley at the Hammy End that snatched a famous 2-1 win from the jaws of defeat in early January 2012. To this day I'm still not sure that wasn't a mishit from Zamo, but in it flew at the near post on a night of high drama.

The days when Arsenal pitched up to the Cottage expecting three points and an easy game have gone. The records show the Gunners claimed four points off us last season but it could easily have been the other way round. For the last two seasons we have been leading at the Emirates deep into the second-half before being pegged back. After a thrilling 3-3 draw last November on their patch, with Mark Schwarzer beating out a last minute penalty, we had the misfortune at home this April to lose Steve Sidwell after 12 minutes to a debatable red card, and then the only goal of the game on a set-play, nodded home by towering centre-back Per Mertesacker.

With our recent business in the transfer market, Fulham have improved significantly since then. We may not have sparkled at Sunderland on day one but there was added grit and determination shown to get over the line - a trait lacking last season. And figuring in the line-up on Saturday I'm certain will be two debutants - big characters both with a clutch of England caps between them, and hungry to make an impact.

I refer of course to Darren Bent and Scott Parker. If you include the surprise return of Giorgos Karagounis at 36, while the average age of the squad remains high, Fulham put eight players under contract over the summer, and every single one an international player. Arsenal meanwhile having released 21, have made just one signing to date, with their quest for a marquee signing getting ever more desperate. And after a shock defeat at the hands of Aston Villa last week, nerves are jangling in north London should Arsenal – despite that win in Turkey midweek - go down to another loss.

Fulham have never won their two opening games in a Premiership season, nor have Arsenal ever lost their first two back-to-back. History in the making I sense at Craven Cottage this Saturday!

For Fulham, Jol is forced into doing without Kieran Richardson for four weeks (hamstring) and defender Fernando Amorebieta won't be considered. Therefore expect the same back four who ended the game at Sunderland to feature. Behind them the ever patient David Stockdale gets a start with Maarten Stekelenburg nursing a bruised shoulder. The question is who makes way to accommodate Darren and Scotty? If Jol gets his selection right, and we've plenty of options, this could be a great weekend for Fulham fans! Even if he starts from the bench, I want to see Alex Kacaniklic get into the action. I'm very keen to see how he combines with Darren in attack.

Don't forget if you want to tune in to the action it's a 12.45 kick off. COYW!

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