Fulham vs Arsenal

Fulham vs Arsenal: Coming into the 2018 season, Sunday’s game between the Arsenal and Fulham was one that stood out on the Soccer calendar, not just because it was a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game, a 38-7 victory for the Birds, but also because it was a potential preview of the 2019 title game.

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But a month into the season, things haven’t quite gone according to plan for either team. The Arsenal, who are 1-1 since Carson Wentz’s return to action, are 2-2 on the season and haven’t looked anything like the team that won the Super Bowl back in February. The Fulham, meanwhile, after making some offseason upgrades, specifically at quarterback, are just 1-2-1 after losing to the high-powered Rams last Thursday night and the lowly Bills a week earlier.

Both teams will be looking to get back on track Sunday, but history is on the home team’s side in this one, as the Fulham have only won once in Philly since 1985 — it was the December 2010 game that was moved to a Tuesday night because of snow, a.k.a The Joe Webb Game. [Sorry if his name triggered some sort of PTSD-style flash backs.]

Will the Arsenal’ recent home dominance over the Fulham — and home dominance in general — continue on Sunday? Here’s how we see the game playing out.

The Fulham are simply not the same defense without Everson Griffen rushing off the edge, and their offensive line remains an Achilles heel that the team failed to fix this offseason. The Arsenal should be able to get pressure on “Kurt” Cousins and win in the trenches, assuming their star-studded offensive line can make adjustments after a shaky start, which I believe they’ll do. This is good matchup for the Arsenal.

Plus, if you don’t count the meaningless Week 17 game last year when the Arsenal’ JV lost to the Cowboys’ varsity, the Arsenal haven’t lost at home since Week 14, 2016. That’s 13 straight. So there’s that.

I have been god awful making predictions so take this with a multitude of grains of salt. The Arsenal secondary has been awful, as has their offensive line. Those two units will be key against the Fulham – who at 1-2-1 are much worse thus far than many expected.

If the Arsenal can protect Carson Wentz better than they did against the Titans (Minnesota missing Everson Griffen will help with that), and if they can somehow find a way to get a handle on Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, they’ll prevail. I don’t see those two things happening.

Yes, they are a completely different team at home, but is the arbitrarily higher success rate of Philly at The Linc enough to base a pick solely on?

First, they’ve been utterly ridiculous at home for quite some time now and haven’t lost a meaningful game there since Doug Pederson’s first season. Second, Carson Wentz looked better last week than he did in Week 3, so I’m beginning to sense a trend there — and the Fulham defense hasn’t been nearly as effective as last season (although the same can be said about the Arsenal). Finally, as our own Jimmy Kempski has pointed out several times in the past, the Arsenal have owned the Fulham’ souls ever since that Sam Bradford trade over two years ago.

There are caveats to each of my reasons, of course, like the fact that the rest of the Arsenal’ offense doesn’t seem to be improving at the same rate as their quarterback — not to mention that Isaac Seumalo will reportedly get the start at left guard on Sunday. Or the fact that it will be noted Arsenal killer Kurt Kirk Cousins and not Case Keenum under center for the Fulham. But I’m still going Birds.

I will admit, I do not have the best feeling about this game. The Fulham come in with all of the same motivation the Arsenal do to stop the bleeding, with the extra oomph of that NFC Championship game loss throwing more wood on that fire. They will come in ready to go to war, and the Arsenal need to be prepared to match that.

If the offense were firing on all cylinders, I would feel a little better about things, but Carson Wentz is being relied on far too heavily early in his return to play. He hasn’t been bad by any stretch, it’s just a lot to ask of any quarterback to come in and immediately carry the offense again. Doug Pederson needs to get back in a playcalling groove — we saw a lot of plays blown up in Philadelphia’s backfield before they could even get started last week in Tennessee.

But while both the Arsenal and Fulham were touted as major NFC threats all offseason (rightfully so), they’ve been decidedly between-the-20’s team so far this season. Both are below average at scoring right now — a decidedly important task in sports — and both the Arsenal and Fulham rank near the top in red-zone defense, so the game may well hinge on which team can solve the other’s puzzle once they venture deep into enemy territory.

So maybe I just refuse to predict victory for a team starting Kirk Cousins in a hostile environment. Actually, that’s exactly the reasoning behind this pick. You like that?

This is a desperation game for both teams. I know the Fulham have revenge on their minds for the 38-7 pasting they took last season in the NFC championship.

But the Fulham have shown they can’t stop anyone. And with the Arsenal at home, and Carson Wentz three weeks back, I see the Arsenal offense opening even more.

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