When looking at the fixture list in preseason for many years, the trip to north London to face Arsenal was one I always had marked as a loss. Fulham have never won against the Gunners on their travels and with the some of the high flying teams Arsene Wenger has had in years past, it was nearly impossible to beat them anywhere, let alone their backyard.
However, this season, the Gunners are a different team. While they have loads of talent, both young and old, the team has struggled and much to the happiness of Fulham fans around the world, the Cottagers went to the Emirates Stadium and earned a 0-0 draw to keep their drive for a top ten finish in overdrive.
Having watched Saturday's match from the comfort of my living room with my three month old, it was a fair result for both sides. Arsenal had more chances, but Fulham had a few of their own and really looked to be playing on par with an Arsenal team whose hopes of gaining Champions League qualification for next season are fading fast.
Defensively, the Cottagers looked fundamentally sound. That in and of itself is the difference between this year's Fulham team and ones of years past. Roy Hodgson has built a strong nucleus at the back in Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes and keeper Mark Schwarzer. In fact, we are now into March and Fulham still have postive goal difference. That is something that amazes me everytime I look at the table.
I honestly did not think Fulham would get a result on Saturday, but the point helps a lot. With West Ham winning over the weekend, the Cottagers are in 9th place right now with a key set of fixtures over the next 9 days that will go a long way in determining where this team finishes come May.
First up will be a Hull City team that has struggled more than any other team in the top flight since the start of the new year. Phil Brown's side was the talk of the Premier League the first three months as the Tigers were in the top five for most of that time, but times have changed and Hull are now looking to simply avoid relegation as their current slide has them just three points adrift of safety.
With this match being played at Craven Cottage, I see no reason why Fulham can't take all three points from the Tigers and continue their strong play along the River Thames. It will not be easy, but Fulham will have revenge on their minds after losing on the opening day at the KC Stadium 2-1.
There is an FA Cup match over the weekend against Manchester United to briefly chat about. In short, I would be shocked if Fulham were to pull off the upset against the Red Devils. Manchester United are playing about as well as I have seen a team play in recent memory. The only thing Fulham have going for them is the fact that this match is being played at the Cottage. Other than that, Manchester United are the better team by a long shot and it will take some miracle from above for the Cottagers to pull off this tie. That being said, I am not even worried about this match. My focus is on the league.
The following Wednesday, March 11th, Fulham take on Blackburn. Between Hull and Blackburn, these are the teams Fulham have to defeat if they want to finish inside the top ten in one of the more competitive Premier Leagues top to bottom that I remember. Sam Allardyce has Rovers playing better than they were early in the season but they are not a spectacular team and once again, this is a home match for Fulham. That being said, a win or draw is something I expect out of this match come 9 days time.
All in all, it has been a joyous season for Fulham and their supporters. There is still work to be done and miles to go, but the team is safe from the drop and looking at a possible top ten finish. Rather than looking ahead at fixtures we need to win to avoid relegation, as we have in years past, we can concentrate and focus on finding a way to finish inside the top ten for only the second time in the club's long history.
7th place is probably the highest this team can finish with Everton well ahead on points in 6th position. However, a 7th place finish would be one for the history books and I am looking forward to these last three months in the hope that Roy Hodgson and the Cottagers can continue their positive play and show folks around the Premier League that Fulham are here to stay and here to play.