Big Weekend: Arsenal v Fulham, Henderson, Fofana, Southampton, Lage

·5-min read
Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates after scoring for Fulham against Liverpool Credit: PA Images
Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates after scoring for Fulham against Liverpool Credit: PA Images

It’s already shaping up to be a ridiculous season and this weekend offers the likelihood of more nonsense, like Arsenal going invincible.

 

Game to watch – Arsenal v Fulham
Two teams who have made pundit-mockingly excellent starts to the season meet in a captivating Saturday teatime London derby at the Emirates.

Arsenal are not just the only team to have won all of their first three matches this season, they are also the only team to have looked convincing throughout.

Fulham, though, may pose the toughest test yet for the Gunners. They have already claimed a deserved point against Liverpool and a first win of the season against Brentford to build on the two draws that began their season. Most excitingly of all, Aleksandar Mitrovic finally seems to have cracked Premier League football having scored twice against the Reds and again last week to secure that thrilling late win over the Bees.

There’s absolutely no way at all that Mitrovic’s goals, like those Arsenal wins, represent an unsustainable purple patch that is doomed to a reversion to the mean before long.

But it’s certainly possible that neither Mitrovic nor Arsenal revert any time soon. You’d certainly expect Arsenal in their current confident mood to continue their winning start to the season but any team that concedes twice to Leicester in their current… not confident mood could certainly find itself needing more than one goal to see off Mitrovic and co.

 

Player to watch – Dean Henderson
You do almost have to admire the arrogance of Henderson’s purported reason for insisting on a loan deal before pre-season began, reasoning that if Erik ten Hag saw him in training he’d insist on keeping him around to be David De Gea’s understudy.

The oddest part of that is that it is both outrageously cocksure yet strangely unambitious. Why settle for being De Gea’s understudy? Lord knows the man is fallible.

But his move has certainly got him playing time, and also given him plenty to do in goal for an enterprising and watchable Nottingham Forest side that nevertheless asks much of its goalkeeper.

Sunday’s visit of Tottenham is unlikely to offer Henderson a quiet weekend, but it’s also true that Spurs’ high-class attacking trio have not yet fully clicked this season. Harry Kane’s two goals have been close-range headers and Son Heung-min has yet to score at all. Son could even make way for Richarlison on current form.

The point is it looks very possible to frustrate Spurs at the moment, and if Henderson maintains his recent standards Forest have every chance of another encouraging result.

 

Player not to watch – Wesley Fofana
Somehow we doubt he’ll be spotted in the stands for Leicester’s trip to Chelsea as he was for last week’s defeat to Southampton.

Wesley Fofana and friend in the stand at Leicester vs Southampton Credit: PA Images
Wesley Fofana and friend in the stand at Leicester vs Southampton Credit: PA Images

 

Team to watch – Southampton
This is nearly always true because one way or another you’re almost guaranteed entertainment. They are so bafflingly bad most of the time but capable of being really quite good when the mood takes them.

When it goes wrong there is no more thrashable team in the land, as we saw in the speed with which they shipped four goals to Spurs either side of half-time on the opening day of the season. And that was after Saints had started well.

They’ve taken a different approach to their last two games by being rubbish at the start and finishing well, scrambling back from 2-0 down to Leeds for a point and a goal down to Leicester for a memorable win.

They are surely overdue another 9-0 defeat and this weekend they meet one of the teams to dish out such a whomping but who remain something of a puzzle themselves. Wretched in their first two games but then able to exploit Liverpool’s own weaknesses. Where does that leave Manchester United against a team that can be excellent or dreadful within the same match?

Absolutely no idea, but it should be a compelling watch.

 

Manager to watch – Bruno Lage
Wolves started last season with three consecutive 1-0 defeats under new manager Bruno Lage, but there was impressively little panic from manager or club. Everyone seemingly retained confidence that there had been enough in those performances to suggest all would be well soon enough, and so it proved.

In game four, Watford were soundly beaten to start a run of six wins in nine games and a season spent for the most part in the hunt for European football

This season has started with a pair of narrow defeats and a goalless draw against Fulham. But this campaign’s slow start also comes on the back of last season’s late collapse and it is now 10 Premier League games without a win for Lage and his team.

At some point the lack of concern stops being admirable and starts to look reckless.

And yet, last weekend at Spurs there really was so much to like about Wolves’ performance. They dominated the first half and with more assured and composed work in the final third would have had reward for that dominance.

But it remains a season that must be kickstarted soon, and while game four proved the key a year ago it will be far harder to take that step against this Newcastle than it was against that Watford.

 

Football League game to watch – Sunderland v Norwich
The traditional promotion-relegation dance performed each year by Fulham and Norwich has had an uncomfortable start this season.

Fulham, for their part, have looked anything but relegation fodder in their first three Premier League games.

Norwich, meanwhile, won none of their first three on return to the Championship.

Normal service has been restored to an extent with a pair of wins over Huddersfield and Millwall but the Canaries face a stern test against a Sunderland side that has got its dignity back and thus far been beaten only by current leaders Sheffield United.

 

European game to watch – Juventus v Roma
Decent enough game anyway, but hopefully this one will be as good as when the two teams last met in January.

Jose Mourinho’s side led 3-1 with 20 minutes remaining but contrived to lose it 4-3 to 10 men as Manuel Locatelli, Dejan Kulusevski (scoring what is currently his final Juventus goal) and Mattia De Sciglio all netted in a frantic seven-minute period before Matthijs De Ligt saw red with 10 minutes still to go. Anything like that will do, fellas.

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