Finnan on Gunners

Thursday 21 February 2002

From Ian McCulloch

In an incredible sixteen-day period coming up, Fulham have games against the fourth and fifth placed teams in the Premiership away, the second placed team at home, and are playing in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup. It's an amazing sequence, and the fans are going to come out the other side of those games either delirious or deflated. Whichever way it goes, it's going to go a long way to determining how successful the season has been.

First up is Arsenal, probably the only team to have really outplayed the Whites earlier in the season. Defender Steve Finnan, speaking after training at Motspur Park, said that not only were the team determined to bounce back from the Middlesbrough defeat, but that they also felt that they had a point to prove against the Gunners.

"Arsenal away is going to be a very, very difficult game," he said, "When they beat us at home they showed that they are a quality team, so we are really going to have to be at the top of our game to get a result on Saturday. And then we've got Liverpool and Chelsea after that, so it's three massive games, but it's why we're in the Premiership and it's great to be involved against these sorts of teams.

"Most of the lads would say that over the first half of the season, after we'd played most of the teams, that Arsenal were the best that we'd come up against. I think that Manchester United are probably going to win the Championship, but they and Arsenal are the top two teams in the Division, so to go away to them is obviously very difficult, but we're confident. If we can play as well as we can then I'm sure we can get the right result.

"But after losing to Middlesbrough, we need to bounce back, and really there's no better place to go to show what we can do. It will do wonders for our confidence if we can get a result there. The lads are really up for this one, and we are determined to get something positive out of the game."

It will be a slightly unusual Arsenal line-up on Saturday - definitely out will be Keown, Upson, Cole and Ljungberg, who are all suffering long-term injuries. Finnan was quick to dispel any thoughts that it might make the game any easier.

"I suppose there's a chance that we can capitalise on that, but to be honest they've got a very big squad and they've got some real quality, there are internationals who can come in, so it's still going to be a extremely difficult match.

"Really, we've just got to concentrate on our own game. We played some decent football at times against Middlesbrough, without really creating enough in the final third. It was disappointing that we didn't get certain decisions going our way, but that's football. That's behind us now, and we've just got to get on with it. If we can continue to play our good football and get our final ball a bit better in the last third, then hopefully we can create chances against Arsenal and put them away.

"It won't make or break our season, this sequence of games, but it will show us far we've come. We haven't had great results against the top sides so far; we've lost to Man Utd twice and Arsenal once, we've drawn against Chelsea, Leeds and Liverpool, so we're really determined to get a win now. You have to say though, away from home, a point is a good result."

None of the players are able to properly voice the frustrations they feel about some of the refereeing performances that they have had to put up with this season, but Finnan couldn't resist getting one dig in.

"We've got the players to do well, definitely. It's just a question of getting the right referee!" he said, jokingly, "Seriously though, we're confident that we can get a result against all those teams. To get draws away and win the home games, we can do that."

Good Cup runs can be something of a double-edged sword. There have been plenty of teams whose league form has started to slide the further on they've got, while others have used it as a springboard to improve their overall form and confidence. How did Finnan feel the Fulham players were coping?

"It can be used as an excuse if you're not doing so well in the league," the Irish international said, "If you're doing ok, then you would say it's not interfering at all. If the squad's big enough then it's not a problem, if you've only got a small number of players to choose from then perhaps the number of games you're involved in might start to tell a bit. Really it's just fantastic to be involved in a Cup run and when you get to this stage, you're just looking forward to all the games.

"We're in the last eight, some great teams are already out, although there are plenty of quality teams still involved, but we're confident that we can do well, as we are against Arsenal on Saturday. We need to be at our best because we're playing the best, but that's where we want to be, up there with them, and we're determined to do it."

It's been a long time since Fulham beat Arsenal at Highbury. The Whites have been doing a lot of things this season that haven't been done for a while - could this be another one to add to the list? Now that would be something to write home about.