By Richard Clarke
Arsenal slipped to their second successive Premiership loss with a 2-1 defeat at Fulham on Wednesday night.
The visitors fell behind in the fifth minute when Brian McBride steered home a header from Claus Jensen's corner. Midway through the half, excellent skills from Luis Boa Morte set up Tomasz Radzinski to sweep home a second at the far post.
Arsenal rallied and were rewarded when Robin van Persie speared home a swerving free-kick from 25 yards. The visitors seemed likely to get back on level terms early in the second half but their impetus was lost in the 66th minute when Philippe Senderos was sent off after receiving two yellow cards.
He will miss the Premiership game with Tottenham at the weekend.
There were major changes in the Arsenal side ahead of the game. Thierry Henry and Tomas Rosicky were back from injury and Van Persie had served his suspension. All came straight in. Emmanuel Eboue, Freddie Ljungberg, Julio Baptista and Gael Clichy were rested completely. Emmanuel Adebayor and Theo Walcott dropped to the bench. Justin Hoyte came in on the right of the defence, Mathieu Flamini filled in at left back and Alex Hleb began in midfield.
Having conceded so many early goals in recent games, Arsenal needed a safe start this evening. They did not get it.
Fulham roared forward from the first whistle and were ahead in the fifth minute. Boa Morte skipped past Hoyte on the left and won a corner off the covering Toure. Jensen floated it to the corner of the six-yard box where McBride steered a header towards the far post. Lehmann got a hand to it but, in doing so, deflected the ball past Flamini on the line and into the corner of the net.
Yet again Arsenal had conceded an early goal due a mixture of bad luck, slack marking and the quality of the opponent's play.
Before that the visitors had actually made a bright start. However they were deflated by the set-back. Radzinski's deflected shot nearly added to Arsenal's problems straight afterwards.
In the end the second goal came after 18 minutes, a brilliant piece of skill from Boa Morte fooled Song and his low cross was bundled home at the far post by Radzinski. The Canadian crashed into the advertising boards as he slid and needed lengthy treatment.
Arsenal were up against it. Jensen's free-kick deflected off the wall and went over then, crucially, Lehmann blocked Boa Morte's shot after he went clear on goal.
In the 34th minute, the Portuguese striker fouled Hoyte 25 yards out and van Persie stepped up to send a swerving free-kick around the wall and beyond the grasping hands of Antti Niemi. It was the perfect tonic.
However the Fulham threat did not end there. Before half time, Jensen curled a free-kick narrowly wide with Lehmann left stationary on the line. Then the German saved low at the near post from McBride after a neat one-two.
Arsenal went into the interval thankful to be in touch.
Fabregas replaced Song at the break and, within a couple of minutes, Henry had swept the ball home. It looked like the equaliser until the assistant referee raised his flag for offside. Replays proved the decision was correct - just.
Arsenal had the bit between the teeth again. They had possession and pushed the visitors back yet they did not force a proper save from Niemi.
At the other end, Papa Bouba Diop hacked a shot over and Jensen again went close from a free-kick.
Just past the hour, Boa Morte skipped through and Senderos hauled him down on the edge of the area. The Swiss defender received a yellow card - his second of the game - and he was off. Boa Morte nearly rubbed salt into the wound by planting the free-kick against the bar.
By this time, Walcott had replaced the tiring Rosicky. After the dismissal, Wenger bolstered his defence by bringing off Hleb for Johan Djourou.
The sending off ended the period of Arsenal ascendancy. However they did have a couple of chances to equalise. First Walcott sent a bobbling cross-shot toward the far post and the stretching Niemi somehow managed to touch the ball onto the post. Then Gilberto burst through but could only produce a stumbling shot that was easily saved.
However Fulham had their opportunities too. Boa Morte scored an 'offside' goal and Jensen's close range shot was blocked by Hoyte.
As the minutes ticked on, Arsenal did their best to salvage the situation. But they finished the game with Jens Lehmann joining the attack in search of an equaliser.
- Senderos Yellow Card Red Card
- Toure Yellow Card
- Flamini Yellow Card
- Hleb 65
- Song 46 Yellow Card
- Rosicky 61 Yellow Card
- Persie Goal! Yellow Card
- Djourou 65
- Fabregas 46
- Walcott 61
- Morte Yellow Card
- Brown Yellow Card
- Rosenior Yellow Card
- Radzinski 46 Goal!
- McBride 75 Goal!
- Routledge 46
- Helguson 75 Yellow Card